August 16 Day 161: I Salute You

To those who are about to teach, I salute you. For some, next week marks the beginning of the ‘Autumn’ term. For others, like myself, there are still six more weeks until S-day (S for the Start of the term.) It was not where I imagined we would be 161 days ago. My optimism failed me on this point.

But I refuse to grumble and be brought down by negativity. Let’s take an inventory of where we are:

  • We are not rushing to remote teaching. Rather than making the transition in a matter of days, this time we have had (or are currently having) enough time to thoughtfully plan for whatever teaching modality our institution is asking of us.
  • Whether remote or in person, synchronous or asynchronous, or any conceivable combination of the above, the students have elected to participate and know better what they are getting into. It’s not going to be perfect—but nothing ever is.
  • People have been creative and generous in their planning. I for one am grateful to Robert Talbert (Grand Valley State University) for his clear, thoughtful, and well documented approach to his fall calculus classroom. There was also an incredibly helpful analysis of virtual whiteboards by Cassie Williams (James Madison University). In each case, folks are presenting their thinking or findings without judgement. Allowing readers to come to the conclusion that best serves the needs of their own students.
  • We have learned so much about the adaptability of ourselves and our students. We can use this knowledge to improve the experience moving forward. We can be prepared for whatever 2020 wants to throw at us. Firenado? Murder hornets? We can and will survive and help our students thrive.

The current situation is still unnerving. Tomorrow I will be flying in an airplane for the first time since February to deliver my oldest to his junior year of college. We have masks, hand sanitizer, and an empty middle seat. He is excited to return, ready to quarantine in his dorm room as required by his college, and hoping for a return of normalcy and autonomy. I will travel there and back in less than 36 hours and scrub down every inch of myself ASAP after touchdown for each flight.

Humans are resilient. We will endure. This autumn is not what I had hoped for. More remote teaching for me. I need to remember the lessons learned from the Spring (documented in the AMS Living Proof Blog):

  • Know that setting up and facilitating virtual interaction takes more time than in a face-to-face classroom. To prioritize student engagement, begin by pre-emptively reducing content to what is absolutely required.
  • Reduce the grading burden. This might mean requiring less teacher-graded assessments or assigning more self- and peer-assessment. (Yes, I will again deploy an oral final but this time I can plan for it.)
  • Take time to introduce important features of every tool that you expect your students to use whether in your course management system, your conferencing platform, or a downloaded app. Low stakes “getting to know you assignments” are a great way to build community and technological competencies. If it is not worth your time to ensure every student can access and use the technology, then it is not worth using in the first place.
  • Do not ignore self-care. (As I told a student, “Remember a time when you helped someone in this class. Now be that person for yourself.”)

For those that are about to embark on the autumn COVID-19 induced adventure, I wish you strength to persist, joy of mathematics, and health throughout the journey.

For the rest of us…our time is coming.

For everyone, I wish you enough.

Published by Jenny Quinn

Mathematician. Mother. Wife. Leader. I am a professor of mathematics at the University of Washington Tacoma. Mother of Anson and Zachary. Wife to Mark. President of the Mathematical Association of America.

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