Spring Beginnings. Looking ahead…

I came into the spring semester with a bit of apprehension as to how the students will feel especially since we are one year into the pandemic and we are all feeling tired and frustrated. How the students feel is important to me as it is a deciding factor on how much they will learn or not. Their attitude towards the way they learn affects me. How does it affect me? Well for starters, if I see that students do not want to be in my class, I lose a bit of my own enthusiasm and passion. Obviously, I am adult and a professional educator, so I don’t quit on them like they do to me, but I am not as eager to do a live class or go to campus and teach. It also takes me longer to find something to get excited about when the students are indifferent or even worse, negative. Of course, I try not to let that show, but it does sap my energy. If done right, teaching is emotional and feeds off of students’ emotions and reactions. Therefore, if the students are resistant to whatever I have to say then I have to work a lot harder to get them to put down their phones long enough to pay attention, listen to me, and hopefully learn something by the end of class.

So far, the students have do not seem as negative as they were last semester. So far so good. I hope I won’t jinx myself by telling everyone that my students are pretty awesome this semester. They all seemed engaged and happy, this make me wonder if they have finally accepted the fact that they will spend the semester or if they are trying to be patient because there is light at the end of the tunnel since we have two vaccines on the market and two coming. Nevertheless, their reaction so far is making me hopeful that we will be able to get through the semester without any major issues. A semester without any problems is a productive semester.

If I am being honest, I am looking forward to a better time when we are all vaccinated and so we can get back to some sort of normal life. I am still wondering what that will look like, but it is bound to be better than how we are living and working right now and for the last year.

Katherine

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Reflections and Lessons Learned from the Fall 2020 Semester and the Pandemic

When I took a break in August, I actually thought I would be back in September writing and blogging away, but that didn’t happen. I think that for one thing I was more tired than I realized, and I was experiencing a bit of COVID lockdown fatigue. Then of course we had our presidential elections and everything that ensued from that in conjunction to teaching 78 students for the semester as you can imagine pushed blogging to the bottom of my list.

Now that things have kind of settled down and I had break from work I spent a lot of time think and reflect about the fall semester. I am ready to start writing and blogging. Luckily I am able to take such big breaks from blogging because I make my living as a professor not a blogger, so I treat my blog as a place for me to reflect on what is happening while I teach as well as have a writing outlet.

As I was thinking about what the topic of my first post would be for 2021, I read a few of my previous posts and in one of them I wrote that I believed that I would be back on campus teaching for the fall of 2020 or at the latest by spring 2021 but here we all are still in a pandemic that does not want to go away and stuck working from home. Yes, we have not one but four vaccines, two are on the market and slowly being used and two maybe three that are almost ready to be approved by the FDA, but there is still no sign that anything in our daily lives will improve any time soon. Last week I read an article on Bloomberg.com that said that their “herd immunity calculator shows that at today’s vaccine rate, it could take the world more than 7 years to achieve herd immunity.” Of course, it did say that in the U.S. it would take until the end of 2022 to reach herd immunity, but it also pointed out that if the other two vaccines come on the market that the time estimate would dramatically the amount of time we would have to wait until we got back to normal. Nevertheless, the point here is that in the U.S we have at least one more year before we can go back to where we were in the winter of 2020. That to me is so crazy. By no means am I trying to be pessimistic because I am an extremely optimistic person who always sees the bright side of things no matter how difficult or bad a situation becomes.

So, here I am in the second week of February 2021 and I am feeling continuously tired and depressed partially because of Covid-19 fatigue from the lockdown, and the other part is from seasonal depression. Although I am American born, I did not grow up in the U.S. as my parents moved back to their home country, Greece, when I was young. As a result, I grew up in a country that has at least 300 sunny days a year and despite of the fact that I have lived in the U.S. for more than 15 years I still have not gotten used the gloomy weather which is predominant in New England during the winter months. Over the years one thing that I have learned is how to recognize it and work through seasonal depression so at about March I am usual back to normal, this year I decided to work on it earlier and that is why I starting to feel better so as a result I am more optimistic and have things I want to talk about.

Going into the fall semester I thought that teaching/work would be better because the student would be more adept to remote learning. Boy, was I wrong! Not only was it not better, it was actually worse. Many of the students were extremely negative towards having to take courses online and were coming up with all sorts of creative excuses as to why they had not completed their homework on time.  Most of the excuses involved Covid-19 and yes even if I thought that there was a chance that the student was lying, I took it with a grain of salt because I kept thinking what if they are telling me the truth. Would I want to be that teacher? The one that in the middle of the pandemic were millions of people all over the world have died didn’t give students the benefit of the doubt.

What bothered me the most was when students thought that if they could not submit the homework by the due date, they would email me to tell me that there is a possibility that s/he had contracted Covid-19 and needed to go get a test and was not sure if the assignments would be submitted on time. One student in particular emailed me on four separate occasions using the same excuse, sigh… Finally, after the third email I realized that the student was using it as a buffer. Despite my annoyance to the constant emails with the fake excuses, I decided not say anything to the specific student or the rest of the students. Mainly because I felt that the students must have a reason for this behavior. They must feel overwhelmed, stress out with everything that was going on and perhaps were procrastinating. I think that the procrastination came from the fact that they were home and felt that they had a lot of time to complete everything and well as we all know that have been in their place before, they didn’t. It happens to everyone when they work and study from home. You sit there is your sweats sipping your coffee with nowhere to go so there is no feeling of urgency to complete things and no real schedule. But I will talk more about the importance of creating a schedule and sticking to it in a different post.

Although the semester seamed to last forever, and it felt like I was Bill Murray in the Groundhog Day movie where he keeps reliving the same day over and over again. Thankfully the semester did finally come to end with students trying to pull themselves together long enough to take the final exam so we can all put 2020 behind us with the hope that 2021 might prove to be a better year for all of us.

So, with this post I am back to blogging in 2021. See you next week!

Katherine

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Gone Fishing…

This is my last post for this school year. Even though we are not going on vacation this year I decided to devote August to rest, relax and rejuvenate. As I have a feeling that this upcoming school year is not going to be a walk in the part. Usually, in August I spend all of my time with my family and feeding my brain by reading only things that make me grow. For me and my family, August is a big month as we have lots of celebrations. It is the month I got married to my wonderful husband and it is also the month our son was born as a result I always take this month off.

So, because of that, I make sure to finish everything I need to do for September. I start sending emails about all sorts of things so I can make sure that my prep for the fall is complete no later than July 31. From editing my syllabi, making sure that my courses are updated to reflect the changes I want to make, creating new e-lectures to completing my AFR’s (Annual Faculty Reports).  Besides needing a break, I love spending the majority of my time with my family.  It helps me go back to teaching ready for the new school year. I have learned from past experience that if I don’t take the time off, I am miserable all year. By May I feel extremely burnt out and I can’t be the best educator, wife, mother, and friend to anybody. I just don’t perform to full capacity and it shows in my work. I don’t do a good job teaching, writing, or anything else I do professionally. This then seeps into my personal life because I become stressed out, annoyed, and irritated causing my personal life to not be good either. As a result, I then tend to not have a lot of patience and tolerance. What is more, the people around me can tell. Thus, for my sanity and others who have to live, work, and have to listen to me teach for three hours a week  I spend as much time as possible throughout the year decompressing and August is one of those times.

The other thing I like to do during my time off is plan early and brainstorm on blog posts or e-lectures for example among other things because if don’t do that ahead of time I am constantly playing catch up and it is not my best writing if I don’t. Like I make sure that my courses are completed and uploaded long before the semester begins as there is not possible to teach and design/create a course while it’s running. It’s too stressful and mistakes are bound to happen, which is not how I want my students or anybody else to think of me. Also, I teach around 80 students a semester and there are some weeks I have so many papers to grade that it is impossible for me to write anything when my brain is completely fried. So I came to the conclusion that I work better when I take August and January off and take care of myself.

I hope everyone has the opportunity to take some time off even if he/she stays home this year. Enjoy the last month of the summer with your loved ones as this year is bound to be a tough one since COVID-19 is still raging. With any luck by the end of 2020, the hard-working scientists and doctors around the world might have some sort of solution for this pandemic so can stop feeling so stressed out and that we are out of control!

This is where I wish I was for August but maybe next year:

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See you all in September!

Katherine

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Weekly Reflection

To be honest not much was going on last week. It is mostly spent between homeschooling, teaching summer courses, and starting to prep for the fall semester. As the fourth week of summer courses comes to a close, I feel that things are going much better than I expected. In the beginning, I felt a bit overwhelmed especially since I only had a week between finishing grading final exams and the starting to teach for the summer. I have settled into the courses and so have the students. Things are humming along, and we are all doing our work, which in many ways is comforting especially since we are still up in the air as far as COVID-19 goes.

All of the students are submitting their work on time, which I hope I don’t jinx myself, hahaha. No, one is complaining about anything. It’s too quiet. What gives? Should I start to worry or consider this part of the new normal? Are students are appreciating the effort I am making and are happy that they are able to continue to take courses from the comfort of their homes? Who knows? But I am running with that assumption for now, as my graduate course has 30 students when the last two summers it was canceled because of low enrollment.  A pandemic can do a lot to a person’s perspective and appreciation of things they did not pay attention to before like going to the supermarket and not having to wait 30 minutes in a line outside the store and to find the good paper towels or toilet paper as well.

Speaking of new and old, I am curious to see how things will work themselves out this fall as we are gearing up for another difficult year full of uncertainty. Many of my colleagues are not taking the summer off to rest and rejuvenate from a long and difficult year they are opting to work all summer, so they don’t have a repeat of the spring 2020 semester. Personally, I am about halfway done with my fall course prep. How are you preparing for the fall?

Katherine

 

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New Normal? What has my life become?

I know that you might think that my title sounds a little dramatic, but our lives have changed to such a degree that I am not sure if we could ever go back to where we were before the quarantine. So, everyone is talking about a new normal without actually defining what that means for us.

Workwise for educators especially those teaching at the university level our working hours have increased dramatically. For one thing, we were asked to transfer our courses online within 10 days. The other issue that came up was that the majority of instructors and professors besides transferring their courses online had to learn all these new tools while teaching in a new environment. In addition to trying to calm down their students who are having an ever-harder time going online to finish up the semester.

The other issue is the endless zoom meetings. Studies and many news articles claim that it is good for us to meet online with colleagues as it makes us feel more connected. At this point, I am so zoomed out that I would like to disconnect, and the majority of my students feel the same way.

To add insult to injury many of us have to homeschool our children while working. You would think that as college professors we would know how to do that, but we don’t, not because we can’t teach but because the curricula and tools, we use in our courses are different from what K-12 teachers use in their classrooms with our children. Which in my book means more work for me because now I need to figure out what and how to teach my child ELA and Math while he would rather be online talking and playing Fortnite with his friends.

Is that our new normal? For me yes, because even if the state reopens for business, my child will be home until September since schools in Massachusetts closed for the rest of the year. Our district says that the buildings are closed not the school and this is a great motto, but the reality is that 1 hour a day for a morning meeting does not keep schools open. This means that if I want the school to be open, I need to do the work.

How do I adapt to this new normal?

For one thing, I rearranged my study to allow my child room to work with me. So, while I am grading student papers, responding to questions, emails, and so on, he has to log into his iPad and work on his homework. This set up helps with me being able to keep track of what he is doing as well as being available to answer any questions he might have.

The other thing I am trying to negotiate is time for myself and away from work, so I don’t burn out. This has happened to me in the past because as a professor I work a lot from home, and I have a hard time separating work and home life. So, I am making a conscious effort to do that. Which for me means that I need to wake up at 6 am to work out. Take time to make and have lunch with my child. Go for a walk or a bike ride with my child, whenever the weather permits, because he is also going stir crazy from being home all the time.  Writing my blog every week. Which I am currently doing wearing my headphones and listening to ocean sounds on my Alexa device to block out the noise my family is making so I can be able to concentrate. I also take breaks throughout the day to talk to my friends and family on the phone or to do a quick chat on facetime.

What is your new normal?

Katherine

 

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Spring is in the air…

It has been a few months since I wrote and published a blog post. There are several reasons for that. One was that I was buried under a lot of papers and final exams and it was Christmas.

Once the holidays over I decided to think about the purpose of the blog. I came to the conclusion that I just love to write about what is going on in my online courses. Then I looked at my blog and it looked extremely boring and stale like the month of January full of different shades of gray. So I decided to just take some time to think about it and my redesign sort of fell to the waste side because of everything that was going at the beginning of the spring semester, but as time passed I missed not writing about my courses, teaching, and students.

During this time I realized that these posts help me reflect and look back on what I do every day which in turn helps me be a better educator. It allows me to really think through the methods, tools, and approaches I use in my courses. The conversation I have every few weeks while blogging keeps me focused, thinking, and moving forward.

So, as this week marks the beginning of spring and as it is the reason where everything begins to come to life and bloom I thought it would be appropriate to re-launch my little blog site. So today I have finished recreating my blog and I am looking forward to start blogging!!!

Spring is nature’s way of saying, “Let’s party!” -Robin Williams

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Katherine

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