Faculty and Students Reflect on COVID-19
Ryan Redmond, Interim Director and Faculty Member, MAT Middle and High School Programs
"On Tuesday, March 10, 2020 at 7:40pm while my wife and I were reading bedtime stories with our son, my phone dinged. A few minutes later, I grabbed my phone off the nightstand and pulled up my email. President Tony Monaco had sent an announcement to faculty, staff, and students informing us that classes would be moving online and that students needed to prepare to vacate campus within days.
In the weeks since then, we faculty have all had to pivot to virtual teaching. More time on Canvas. More phone calls. Zoom. And more Zoom. But here's the thing. This is not a moment only about how to pivot to a new all-virtual teaching and learning medium; this COVID-19 pandemic era is a moment of total upheaval that frankly requires a moral, ethical, human revival, a pedagogy of humanization and of responding to the grief that we're collectively experiencing.
On April 2, 2020, twenty three days after that email from President Monaco, I received an email from one of my undergraduate students. He thanked me "for being the only professor that has been so understanding in these current times." He continued: "It has been so helpful to talk about the issues instead of ignoring them like other classes during discussion, and also providing additional time for assignments."
I don't really know what teaching and learning and school should look like in this era, and while I luckily have made a few good decisions in the eyes of that student, I too flail and struggle and question. But here's the thing. I know with certainty that if we proceed with the plans we had in place on March 9 and by merely learning how to do Zoom better and not reimagining our collective futures, that isn't it."
Deborah Donahue-Keegan, Faculty Member, Civic Studies, Adjunct Faculty, Dept. of Education
Prior to starting online classes, Deborah Donahue-Keegan, Faculty member of Civic Studies, Adjunct Faculty member of the Department of Education, and Associate Director of Tisch College SEL-CE Initiative, sent a check-in survey to all of her students. The survey invited the students to provide feedback for plans going forward and to share how they were feeling. The following was one of the student responses that captures what many of the students are currently feeling, and addresses what the class is now examining in a virtual environment:
"I'm feeling a range of strong emotions every day; for example, a sense of loss, disorientation, discomfort, anger, sadness, helplessness, wired, trapped, lonely, and fearful. Remembering to acknowledge these emotions helps free up headspace for pleasant emotions too, like gratitude and hopefulness - and helps me feel more motivated to figure out ways to reach out and help others. Taking "time for pause" really helps me with this."
The class begins with a 3-5 minute "Time for Pause" mindfulness practice focusing on breath awareness. In her 2016 CELT Blog Post, Deborah Donahue-Keegan wrote the following: "Mindful breathing practices can promote the development of social-emotional stamina and well-being through facilitating present-moment awareness and non-judgemental acceptance of one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations within the surround of one's environment." (Greater Good Science Center, n.d.; Seppala, 2016)...Different times, timeless words.
Karina Ribeiro, School Psychology Program, 2nd Year Graduate Student
"Whenever someone asks me what this transition has been like, the best way I can think of to describe it all, is that it has been much like ice skating at Boston's Frog Pond.
We have all been invited to join together on the ice. We gather the appropriate gear; put on our skates; tighten our laces. We prepare as much as we can to be successful. After-all, this is a new and unexpected task, and there’s a chance someone might slip.
From beginner to advanced, we gather all skill sets. Some still finding their balance, and others painlessly zooming by—no pun intended. It is an interesting scene. Yet, whether an expert practicing triple-axels, or a beginner holding on to the edges, we all skate on the same ice, and we each play a role in supporting one another on this new surface. With this, each of us grows more confident and less anxious. Although these uncertain times can be discouraging, whenever the ice rink begins to feel cold, overcrowded, and tiresome, I hope we can all find comfort in knowing that we are all together.
I often think about how our department and respective communities have continued to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. I am grateful to our faculty and our department; despite all of the shifts within their own personal lives, each has worked tirelessly to reorganize and accommodate lessons, while remaining continuously committed to students’ safety and well-being.
While these times have impacted and affected each of us in different ways, I look forward to seeing my classmates and professors on Zoom, because it means that they can report being safe, well, and healthy.
This experience is sure to shape our future work in education. May we take this as an opportunity to expand and practice being creative, flexible, and adaptable; as these skills are often attributed to success within our field.
Thank you for skating beside me. Let's glide!"
Sayara Huseynli, Museum Studies Program, 1st Year Graduate Student
"Regardless of the uncertainties of daily life, I think the faculty and the administration of Tufts University have been doing an outstanding job to keep the quality of the classes high while meeting the learning needs of the students. Nevertheless, due to my past experience with virtual learning, I was saddened to have to change a physical classroom into a virtual one. As an international student, who relocated all the way from Azerbaijan to pursue a master’s degree in the US, this has been especially difficult.
My initial skepticism about the ineffectiveness of online classes was related to the lack of live interaction with the professor/lecturer and also with my peers. In the past I took multiple prerecorded courses on Coursera, a platform which left no room for direct interaction with the professor; if I had a question or a comment while attending a lecture, I had to type out my question and wait a few days for an answer. I appreciate the real classroom experience my professors create with Zoom, making an effort to allocate time towards addressing the burning questions.
A sense of isolation was my other concern about taking courses virtually. It is important for me to share a sense of community and the physical presence at a set time which is required for my classes on Zoom, allows me to see my classmates regularly, which fights solitude. Honestly, seeing my classmates and being able to talk to them about some of the challenges related to daily life as well as the class was comforting and reminded me that all of us are going through these tough times together. In order to cater to everyone's learning style, my teachers came up with creative solutions, such as: dividing the class time between a Zoom video call for the lecture and a Canvas Chat for discussion (Tara Young); maintaining clear and orderly discussions by utilizing the “Raise your hand” feature on Zoom (George Shwartrz); and using “Breakout Rooms” to engage with challenging readings in smaller groups (Peter Probst). Big thanks to all faculty members and students. Together we will overcome anything."