Sunday, April 10, 2022

The New Rules of Teaching

 1. If you're teaching online, do not make your students turn on their cameras during classes that are taught on Zoom. They may feel self-conscious about their living situation, so do not damage their self-esteem by requiring them to show their faces during class. Never mind the fact that they can use backgrounds provided by Zoom to hide their living situation. And yes, it's true that you don't know if they're actually paying attention in class or if they've logged on and then gone back to bed or are sending flirty emojis to their "bae" on Snapchat, but we should really not make their situation even more difficult than it already is.

2. If a student says they have the virus, do not require them to show proof, like a positive Covid test or a doctor's note. Why would they lie about why they have to miss class? Yes, students have falsely claimed that their grandparents/friends/hamster died in order to avoid attending class for years but we're in the middle of a PANDEMIC. So they would NEVER lie about this.

3. If students do miss class because they caught the virus, it's your responsibility to get them caught up by meeting with them outside of class. Yes, that takes extra time, and yes, you may need to drink your weight in coffee in order to stay awake for all those extra appointments. And no, you won't get paid extra. But the satisfaction of being there for your students should be payment enough.

4. All faculty should volunteer to help their students move into their dorms at the beginning of the semester. Yes, it's manual labor, and no, you won't get paid. But we'll all be showing the students and their parents that the faculty are there to make them feel welcome. And by "we", we are referring to the faculty, not ourselves, the administrators. You can't expect the administrators to do all that sweaty work in ninety degree weather! Do you know how much our designer clothes cost? Well, I guess not, since most faculty's salaries prevent you from shopping anywhere but places like Target or Walmart. But still!

5. Be lenient about late work. In fact, you should strongly consider eliminating the late work policy altogether. It is unfair to expect the students to turn in their work on time when they're already going through such a difficult time because of the pandemic. It's important to show compassion to them, even if it means that it will take them six weeks to complete a five-page paper. 

6. Be lenient about absences. The students are going through SO MUCH right now, so it may be too difficult for them to attend a class that they (or their parents) are paying thousands of dollars for. It isn't fair to penalize them for missing class when they may be suffering from depression, the virus, family problems, or maybe they just don't feel like coming to class. And THAT'S OK. They should not be required to do more than they can handle. 

I've neglected blogging (and writing in general, unless it's for work) for months now mainly because of the rules above (and no, I'm not exaggerating; they sent out emails pressuring us to help the students move into their dorms, which I refused to do). One of my students missed more than a month's worth of classes, and my program director and the dean says I have to let the student come back to class and not penalize them for their absences because they had a medical reason for missing class. They also said that I should meet with the student as many times as they need outside of class in order to get them caught up and extend a bunch of deadlines for them. The student said that they hope to get "at least an A- or B+" in my class. 

A few months ago, I told my program director that certain students kept turning in blank documents and then would email me several days after the deadline of an assignment, claiming that it was a "mistake" and wanting to turn in the correct assignment late without any penalty. The director told me to let them and when I balked at this, they accused me of being too harsh and lacking empathy for the students.

I understand that the students really are going through a hard time. The pandemic was difficult for everyone, but especially teenagers, who had to miss out on things like school dances, their senior trip, and in-person classes. But at the same time it's incredibly frustrating and stressful to be forced to bend over backwards and do all this extra work for students who aren't even doing the bare minimum, like show up to class or turn  in their work on time (or at all). The teachers are also going through a hard time, but we don't get any leniency. We're just basically told to suck it up and keep working.

I want to say, "I'm going through a hard time too! I've been to the hospital dozens of times in the past year! I've already paid hundreds of dollars for prescription meds and medical bills, and I owe hundreds more! In a few years, I will be hooked up to dialysis machines three times a week until I get a kidney, and if I don't get one, I will be hooked up to those machines for the rest of my life! But I don't get to skip any of my classes. I don't get to turn in my work whenever the hell I want."

I also think that it isn't harsh to require students to show up and meet deadlines. If they don't learn this now, they will become the bad employees that annoy everyone else in the workplace, the ones who constantly call out "sick", show up late, and don't do their work, thus forcing everyone else to do their work for them. 

I keep hearing stories of teachers who've grown fed up and left the profession altogether. I've thought about it too. When I taught in Small Town, it was frustrating sometimes, but not to the extent that the job in College Town is. Even before the pandemic, I was struck by the entitlement and unrealistic demands (e.g., "Professor, are you available to meet with me on Saturday?" or "I don't think I should be penalized for missing class because my boyfriend just broke up with me, so I think you should take that into consideration" or "I know that the paper is due tomorrow, but I forgot to work on it. Could you just email me what the paper is about and how to write it?") of so many of the students in College Town. Not all of them are like this, but too many of them are. 

"Are you feeling stressed?" the dermatologist asked me when he examined my face, which has been covered with a scaly, peeling rash for months now (this is why I'm actually grateful that I could wear a face mask to cover it up). "I think you have perioral dermatitis, and it's triggered by stress."

I became so stressed out that I sought out short-term counseling, which is provided to faculty for free by the college. I told the counselor that I considered leaving College Town for another teaching job. "Well, you have to think about whether you're running away or running towards something," the counselor said. "If you're running away, you're hiding or avoiding problems. And it's quite possible that you'll face the same problems with students and administrators at the next college. But if you're running towards something, it means you're moving towards something that you know will make your life better."

And what he said struck a chord with me. Now, I have to figure out what will make my life better. I also learned to silence my phone so that I wouldn't keep hearing the notifications every time I received an email from my students. One day I got up early to write, and my phone went off not once but more than twenty times in that one day because of emails from my students asking questions about things that they would know the answer to if they'd bothered to listen in class or read the syllabus. And this is something that literally happens on a regular basis. It got to the point that I wanted to smash the phone and shriek, "MAKE IT STOP! MAKE IT STOP!"

What about you? How has the pandemic affected you or your work?