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What did you learn?

Today I engaged in a roundtable discussion with some of my amazing colleagues at McPherson College as we spent time processing what it was like to teach during the Covid-19 pandemic. The fact that President Schneider allowed time and space for us to process our experiences made me feel valued. The organizational question asked of us was “What did you learn?”

I didn’t share much at the roundtable because, well, I am a writer and why waste a good journal prompt on the spoken word when I can hoard the idea, listen to others and rush home to fill my blog with all of my insights and ideas. Here is what I learned:

  1. Most of what works in teaching during a pandemic works even better when not in a pandemic. Open communication, flexibility, patience and grace. Flexible deadlines and the willingness to communicate the same message again and again to students who have questions is something I have always done as a teacher. It was even more important during hybrid course delivery.
  2. Today’s students are often living in pandemic-like situations even when the rest of us, who are insulated from hunger, poverty, abuse, neglect, and anxiety about where the next ——– is coming from, can easily pretend the world is a stable place. When all the unknowns during Covid-19 left me taking on bad habits or attempting to escape rather than get my work done, I realized that we, as teachers, often expect our students to juggle these kinds of stressors all the time.
  3. I am not a teacher-centric teacher. If a student doesn’t know how to write a good essay, I don’t consider that an insult to me or that it is beneath me to teach such a student or that someone else in the faculty food-chain should have taught him this instead of me. The truly valuable educational moments are not mine, as the teacher, to dictate. I can plan for teachable moments, but they aren’t always going to happen according to my best-laid plans. Teachable moments operate much more like Nirvana.
  4. Flexibility and inconsistency are not the same thing.
  5. I simplified my lesson plans and it helped me to teach better. Post-pandemic, I will continue to simplify.
  6. I was cognizant throughout the pandemic that part of my job as a teacher was to model for students an honest but positive quest to thrive while in survival mode. I might not be teaching my dream lesson plan on Zoom (because my dream lesson plan consists of fully exposed faces in face-to-face format) but I could still have a good day.
  7. It was easier to allow at-risk students to fall through the cracks during the pandemic and it was much more difficult to pull them up through those cracks after they took the plunge into failure.
  8. It is ALWAYS important to take time to connect because without human connection, retention won’t happen. They will always remember how you made them feel is often quoted, but the pandemic taught me that this remembering and feeling is the only gate through which any kind of meaningful learning can be attained. This is foundational.
  9. Children learn what they live is another well-known parenting mantra, and we readily accept that this applies to small children, but what we don’t always remember is that the children in this premise grow up often to become those self-fulfilling prophecies I studied about in sociology class. Good teaching changes narratives rather than just reinforcing existing ones.

By Prof. Snell

Poetry is my thing!

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