Today marked the start of the second week of online classes this semester. I’ve gotten some good feedback from some students who seem to be engaged as much as they ever were with the course material, but I also haven’t heard from a lot of students. I know that some of them are having difficulties right now — we have a high percentage of international students on this campus, and some of them are still stuck in limbo when it comes to returning to their home countries — but given the lack of Internet infrastructure here in rural Wisconsin, it can be hard to know which students might not necessarily have reliable Internet connections with which to access the materials we instructors are putting online.
I started teaching my first online class over a dozen years ago, and even though I gave some thought to the fact that I was teaching an online class without having taken one first, that didn’t seem to be such a big deal at the time. The University of Toledo hadn’t offered online classes for that long when I finished my graduate work there (and I’m not even sure if the English Department had any of their classes online at that point, much less their graduate seminars), and nearly everyone who was teaching online at that point had never taken an online class before. These days, though, lots of professors have taken at least one class online before they start teaching, and many of them may have even done K-12 coursework through the Internet.
In all honesty, I vastly prefer teaching classes in-person to teaching classes online, in large part because it’s far easier to manage Socratic Method-based dialogues in the flesh than it is on any online forum, whether video-based or text-based or what have you. More than that, though, being in front of my students gives me a degree of immediate feedback that allows me to pivot when I need to — students walking into the classroom looking sad or angry after the Packers lose a close football game, smiles and laughter when one of my stupid little jokes actually manages to connect — and adapt my teaching to the needs of my students. I can still do a measure of that through short writing assignments and the like, but it’s not the same thing.
I’m worried about whether or not my students are doing okay, but I may be even more worried about whether or not I’m doing okay here. I’ve never been the most social person in the world, but these past few weeks of isolation have been a test of even my abilities to take care of myself here. It’s not that I haven’t had students and colleagues ask me if I’m okay, but given how messed up things have gotten for all of us here, I’m genuinely unsure of how I’m supposed to answer that question. I mean, I’m eating three meals a day and showering and all of that, and I haven’t had any particularly dark thoughts (outside of the what-ifs always running through my head for story ideas, but that’s a constant in my life), but without seeing how other people I know are doing, I feel like I don’t have a good frame of reference for putting words to how I feel right now.
I keep saying that I’m not so concerned about the COVID-19 virus itself, but I’m more than a little worried about people’s responses to it. There’s a lot of overtly political stuff that I’m aching to rage about right now, but I don’t feel like I can talk about it because I’m so concerned about blowback at this point. This pandemic isn’t going away in weeks, though, and we’ll probably still be dealing with these drastic changes to our lives several months from now. Maybe there will come a time soon when I feel that I can write about these issues, but until that time comes, the best course of action still seems to be for me to shut up and get on with my life, such as it is these days, as best I can. I hope that everyone I care about is able to do the same right now.