March 6 Day 1093: Where Were You?

It was three years ago today that UW President Ana Mari Cauce sent this email:

The Friday morning message called for emergency remote teaching by the very next workday. The speed of the transition was dizzying.

I was on a writing retreat at Pack Forest with a handful of my Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences colleagues. It was comforting to process the request with others going through the exact same transition. When not working on academic writing, I scoured the web for information about other institutions’ reactions to the “novel coronavirus.” Many Washington universities and colleges quickly followed suit. The rest of the country was not far behind.

I did not know it then, but it would be the inspiration for this blog. By the next day, I started regularly posting on social media about the fears and hopes, struggles and triumphs, disappointment and delights of the transition to remote teaching and isolation.

At the encouragement of a colleague, a month or so later I gathered all my covid related posts from various social media outlets, and published them here. Then I continued to post regularly during the heart of the crisis.

I still post occasionally. Because I am not pushing the boundaries (or more accurately, I am not being pushed past the boundaries) of my teaching and leadership abilities, there is less to process. Or maybe it is that I am just tired.

Reflecting back on these 3 years, what I have learned?

  • It’s better to try something new and fail than to not try anything at all.
  • Creating a supportive community is magical. And to build a trusting and inclusive community, whether in person or online, requires intentionality. Building community is orders of magnitude easier to achieve in person.
  • Mimicking is not learning. Many students (across all grades) survived isolation by becoming excellent mimics. Now is the time to double down on active learning and truly engage our students in their education.
  • Deep understanding of simple ideas is more powerful than passing familiarity with complex ideas. And it lasts longer too.
  • Three years is a long time. I’d like to think that the time of corona has passed but I had more students report positive COVID tests this quarter than any of the preceding ones.
  • I definitely do not have a future as a fortune teller. My optimistic nature kept hoping for an early resolution to the pandemic and I was continually disappointed. Case in point, the rest of the message from 3 years ago today:

Suffice it to say, we did not resume normal operations March 30, 2020.

So here we are three years later. Behaviours have not fully returned to pre-pandemic patterns. It feels like more of my students and colleagues are in crisis than usual. And I am counting the days until the quarter concludes. Is it just me, or are others feeling this way too?

I haven’t asked this question for a while but I am curious, how are you, really? How are your students?

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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