This is going to be quick, because it’s been a long day, but I want to get an update out there for those who were wondering how classes went. Well, they went about as well as can be expected, I suppose. It was only the first day of class, which meant that both classes were basically just introductions, but I did have the chance to at least get a feel for things.
In the morning I have my graduate seminar, which is once a week on Thursday. There are seven students, which is a nice, manageable number. It’s a bit weird sitting around in a circle (actually, a square) with everyone, myself included, behind barriers, but I think we can make it work. I’m not too worried about this class.
It’s the undergraduate class that I am worried about. Well, I don’t know if I would say I am worried per se, but there is a lot that is still up in the air. I have somewhere north of fifty students at the moment (that number will remain in flux until next week, most likely), and it is a bit overwhelming standing in front of that many students wearing masks and tucked away behind plastic barriers. I also noticed that it is very hard to hear students speak. It’s hard enough communicating with people while masked, and the barrier makes it even worse. I was concerned that this might be a problem, and it looks like my concerns were well-founded. I guess all I can do is what I did today: ask students to speak up.
Speaking of things being in flux, guidance from the school has also been, shall we say, “developing.” To be honest, my original plan for this semester a couple months ago was to have the graduate seminar in person but the undergrad class online, because I wasn’t sure if a class with that many students would be feasible in person. But then word came down that, unless we could prove that online classes were more effective pedagogically speaking, we had to have classes in person. At first I was not happy, but then I started to think that it might be a good thing for the school to push for a return to something resembling normality. So I got on board and began trying to figure out how I was going to make this work.
Fast forward to this Monday. It is the day before a holiday and two days before the start of the semester, and we suddenly get notification that while the school would like us to have in-person classes, they cannot force anyone to do this if they don’t want to. They basically left it up to us. I spoke to a colleague later that day who said that he switched his classes to online as soon as he got that notification. Had we had more time, I might have considering doing something similar, but my undergrad class is filled mostly with international and exchange students, and they often don’t get automatic notifications or are still trying to figure out how the system works. I also had over a dozen students who had registered late and wouldn’t get any notifications at all. So I decided to stick to my guns and go forward as planned. I did get a few emails from students asking if we were really having in-person classes (apparently most undergraduate classes immediately went online). I also got a few emails about COVID-related absences—one student had tested positive, another student had woken up with symptoms and was going to get tested, and another student had a roommate who had tested positive. If this is a sign of things to come—and pandemic restrictions aren’t eased—I have no idea how viable my current course of action will be.
Again, though, it’s hard to blame the school for our situation. I’m sure they got a lot of pushback from nervous faculty who were uncomfortable with the return to in-person classes, and the policy has always been to err on the side of caution. I would honestly like to have seen the administration push through, but I also understand why they didn’t.
And that’s where we stand right now. The truth is that I don’t have any clearer an idea of how this semester is going to go than I did last week. I will still just have to wait and see. But if this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that nothing is certain and you never know what is going to happen. So I’ll just keep on keeping on, fingers crossed, and hope we can push through this and get to the other side.