At 10:50 a.m. recently, I was all set to teach my Theory II class. My I-Pad was charged. I had the links queued up to the textbook for screen share, and I had already created several videos explaining the concepts. When the 11:00 a.m. hour arrived and only two students were visible on Zoom, my confidence started to plummet. By 11:05 a few more students had arrived, but my technology was not working quickly and my internet was at best, spotty. I noticed that not one of my students had logged on to watch the videos I had worked so hard on during the late hours of Saturday night. In those first ten minutes of teaching, my students said very little and looked like they wanted to be anywhere but on my zoom session.
During the class meeting, my nine-year-old daughter came rushing into my home office to ask a question about her English assignment. I had to ask my husband working in the other room to get off the internet for 30 minutes so I could have the speed I needed to complete the discussion. And even though there was a bit of laughter at the end of our class session, both my students and myself know that this is not normal. This is the reality of teaching in the wake of this pandemic. And while some are discussing the joys of home schooling or the ability to teach all of their music classes from their studios, I don’t know if I would call what I am doing home schooling or effective online instruction. I am in crisis mode and I am crisis teaching.
In my crisis teaching mode, I have come up with eight rules that have helped me to navigate through this new normal.
- Be gentle with yourself.
Most of you never signed up to teach an online class and in most situations, our students didn’t sign up for an online class with us either.
- Check in with your students.
Be open to guideline dates instead of deadline dates. I have students who have grandparents diagnosed with COVID-19, students working over 40 hours a week in fast food to support families who have been furloughed, and students responsible for homeschooling siblings. Let them know you want to hear from them. Humans first, students second.
- Hold class asynchronously if possible.
My freshman class asked for one class meeting a week as did my graduate class. Neither class meetings are required and I record the session and house the recording on my course management site. Some students want the live face-to-face time, while others simply can’t for a variety of reasons.
- Save your head space for what matters.
There is an abundance of technology resources out there and they are all competing for your head space, but only give them a bit of that space. The amount of emails I received from companies was a bit overwhelming and I had to forgive myself for not looking at each and every one of them. Pick one or two companies to explore and see if that platform adds to your teaching. If it doesn’t, move on. Ask your colleagues what is working well and how they are using the program. Don’t feel guilty if you are just using your LMS, YouTube, and online textbook.
- If you are making videos, they do not have to be perfect.
I know in the world of academia, we can be overwhelmed by imposter syndrome and the thought of our video being shared across the internet is horrifying. What if we said a pitch wrong or played a wrong chord on our keyboard? Say goodbye to tenure and respect, right? I spent my spring break recording the same video at least five times, even with pauses and such in my recording software. I finally just hit upload. Now is not the time for judgement. Remember, crisis teaching.
- If funds allow, invest in a decent headset and microphone.
Many of us have spent hours in meetings over the past few weeks and we still deserve to hear our confident voices heard, and heard well over technology. A good noise cancelling microphone attached to a headset will cost about $40. It is a good investment.
- Invite guest speakers to your class, live or recorded.
Just a month ago, we were sitting in a conference room working on a budget for guest speakers. Now many of those pioneers in the field are sitting in front of their computer as well and have the time to give a 20 minute interview to the class. I have put together a YouTube playlist for my pedagogy class where I interview effective instructors and am inviting authors to my classes based on the articles read for the week. I have not had one person say no to these requests.
- Check in with your colleagues and friends, outside of a required meeting time.
Recently I joined a zoom session with eight of my friends from graduate school. I haven’t seen most of them in over 15 years. The session lasted almost three hours and it was the first time I woke up with a smile on my face in weeks. On Friday night, about 10 colleagues from around the country joined together for a virtual happy hour where we shared our frustrations and triumphs in this new teaching environment. Laughter and being honest without fear of retribution is important as are human relationships. Perhaps the Eagles said it best: “this prison is walking through this world all alone.” And colleagues, we aren’t alone. As I ended an email to a frustrated student, “we got this.” Emphasis on the word we.
Step away from the computer and find the most recent version of your teaching philosophy. Read it out loud. Have your core teaching principles and teaching philosophies changed or have they just been challenged in this time of crisis teaching? For most of us, the answer is somewhat and for others it may be an enthusiastic no or defeated yes. The answers don’t lie in the latest technology, but in our abilities to be authentic and effective educators. What defines students success in this period of time may look completely different. A successful student may not be the one that achieved the highest GPA or was awarded the top assistantship. It’s the student that was determined to learn and showed up when they could. An effective instructor may not be the one who is able to use four programs at the same time while recordings multiple voice parts for a sight singing project. It’s the instructor that cares and is willing to go the extra mile to empower the spirit and the mind of their students through a new platform. Both parties show up, admit the challenges, embrace the newness, and do what they can to not only master content, but to connect in ways that perhaps we didn’t know were vital.
There’s more than content and delivery to be discussed when this period is behind us. Perhaps the lesson to be learned is not about what or even how we taught during COVID-19. Perhaps this period is a lesson in why we teach. I would like to think it has to do with importance and the power of creative thinking and the human spirit.