The last time I posted I was in a dark space. It was January 2021, and there were months left of pandemic teaching ahead of me and so many others. I was clearly overwhelmed.
Today is a new day. There is reason to hope that, with the rollout of vaccines*, we can see an end to the pandemic that has kept us hidden away for so long. Difficult and important conversations related to equity, diversity, and inclusion are (still) happening among my friends and colleagues. Many are working toward un/learning and developing solutions. It is a long journey ahead, but there are more of us taking steps on it than ever before.
Personally, since submitting grades in early May, I recognize my immense privilege in being able to shift into a kind of recovery mode, giving my brain lots of time to rest and my body lots of time to move. For this I am so grateful. Even so, I’m still struggling to find focus for more than an hour or two on most days. My heart goes out to all those who have not been able to take a form of recovery break.
Some folks were ready in May to start thinking about post-pandemic teaching. I was not. It’s taken me a month to create space and perspective to just begin reflecting on my teaching over this past year, as I re-learned the core aspects of my job.
What have I learned teaching through a pandemic? Some very preliminary thoughts:
- Students inspire me to work harder and to show up with the best self I can offer. I will drop pretty much anything else to do what I need to do for my students.
- Time with students (e.g., in class, in office hours) is important for my own well-being and career satisfaction.
- I can offer students an opportunity to somewhat customize their grade breakdown, while maintaining the department-required average, and it’s not too much extra work
- I miss two-stage exams for the community and competence they build
- Clicker-style questions on Canvas have some advantages
- Discussion posts have potential to enhance learning, at least for some students. And once I got the hang of it, they weren’t too hard to mark (minimally) regularly. Bonus: Kept me aware of what my students were thinking and understanding (and, depending on the prompt, feeling).
- Video recorded lessons help everyone (and are a little scary for me)
- There are some advantages to online exams (e.g., question and answer randomization, auto-grading MC)
- Now that my courses are set up in modules form, they just need updating to help keep me and students on track
- I’d like to use verbal feedback/videos more, but I find it difficult to motivate myself to do so. Writing just comes fastest for me most of the time… but leads to a lot of words on a screen.
- Being more flexible in deadlines is great for students and works for me… but is tough to program in Canvas and communicate
- Group drop-in office hours on Zoom worked really well imo
- Individual appointments, booked through Canvas and done on Zoom, worked pretty great
- I really really really miss (and rely on) the visual feedback from my students’ faces and body language during class to know how things are going
- Group annotation tools are fun and useful, so is a side chat panel
- Self Determination Theory of motivation has real potential as a guide for my decision making and priorities. How can I use it more? What are the downsides?
- [I might keep adding to this list as I think of things]
What’s coming next on the Blog
Over the coming weeks, I will be working on digesting the comments my students offered through the student experience of instruction mechanisms at my institution. I usually do this annually, and post my reflections as well as synthesized quantitative scores, but last summer I was in too much of a panic and avalanche of work every single day to do so. So this summer, I intend to examine and compare feedback from 2019/2020 to 2020/2021. I taught the same three courses over those two periods, but under drastically different global and “classroom” circumstances. I look forward to learning from my students… even more than I did all year long.
*which need to spread world-wide urgently
Suddenly it dawned on me… my website is woefully out of date. Time for a renovation! I’ll try not to let it get so dated next time. Well, I’ll try to try. There’s always next sabbatical in 7 years!
I chose as this site’s banner the image of the Hohensalzburg Fortress in Salzburg (Austria) because of how I felt while taking that photo (and because I like the look of it). I was travelling on sabbatical (March 2017), and had uncharacteristically ventured off by myself up the mountain in the middle of the city on a sunny spring day. All morning I simply followed my curiosity and was rewarded by stunning views of mountains, ruins, forest, city, and the medieval Fortress. I learned about that place and myself in equal measure that day.
As of 1 July 2016 I’m officially on Sabbatical! Instead of heading to the classroom this Fall, I’ll be on an extended summer until September 2017. Sabbatical is an amazing opportunity to spend a year working on big picture projects and deep thinking that don’t fit well in the hectic pace of the regular teaching terms. It’s also a chance to catch up on sleep, well-being, time with family and friends, and some travel.
Some projects I’ll be working on include a few papers to submit for publication to journals (3 of which already partially exist but need deep work), the International Program for the Scholarship of Educational Leadership: UBC Certificate on Curriculum and Pedagogy in Higher Education (http://international.educ.ubc.ca/soel/), overhauling my Psyc 101 and 102 courses, continuing to work on curriculum renewal for the BA Psychology degree, and a few other things here and there. I’m working on developing habits to keep me productive enough on these projects while also spending lots of time resting and re-energizing.
If you’re trying to reach me during this time, I’m generally going to be pretty terrible on email. I really hate email. It saps my life energy, which means it cannot be a priority for me during this sabbatical time. If you really need to reach me urgently, try a Tweet (@cdrawn) to grab my attention.
One week ago today I saw a small, white envelope in my mailbox in the department. I saw it was from the Office of the President at UBC and I tore it open — careful not to destroy the sacred contents inside. I knew what it was. It was a letter signed by President Stephen Toope telling me he approved my tenure file and I will be promoted to Senior Instructor with Tenure effective July 1, 2014. Tears welled up in my eyes and I blinked them back to actually read the words. I wandered around for a few moments, aimless, slack-jawed, alone. I vaguely remember telling grad student/ former TA and student of mine/ turned sessional instructor Ben Cheung and he congratulated me. He left. I stayed in the mailroom in shock. Larry Walker came by — wise Larry, who knew me as a terrified grad student applying to the PhD program almost a decade ago, and who sat on my hiring committee evaluating my potential five years ago. I looked up at him and said I got tenure, still holding the letter and staring at it. He congratulated me with the gentle sincerity he brings to every encounter, paused, and said “this is something to celebrate, you know.” I did. I knew. He then asked if I was ready to be called “Senior” — ha! Then he called me a “young kid” and we laughed. I was shaken back to reality and ran to my office to phone my husband, then my gran, my mom, my aunt, my mother-in-law, and my friend Lesley who wrote her dissertation back-to-back with me. I posted on Facebook and Twitter and was overwhelmed by more “likes” and comments and retweets of congratulations than I ever could have imagined! My friend Lara called me squealing with excitement — Lara, who I knew as a nervous but extremely competent undergrad deciding on grad schools, now on the tenure-track herself at SFU. It was all a celebration of love and support of my achievement and it was **amazing.** Later that night, and the next, I indeed celebrated. Then I went back to work creating exams.
A week later, I’m starting to open my eyes and face forward. Far forward. So much of my life has had the next step pre-planned. What will you do after high school? University (though that was at one time much more obvious to my teachers than my family). What will you do after University? Grad school (though that was for a long time much more obvious to my undergrad advisors than to me or my family… what’s grad school?). What will you do after grad school? Apply for this amazing teaching faculty position and if I don’t get it then figure out something else (I had no back-up plan, really). I got the job. Amazing!! Now what? Get tenure. You have four years (+8 months of waiting for our committees to evaluate you) to show us we want to keep you. So get to work.
I did. I worked harder than I ever thought I could. And to anyone who has known me a long time, that’s saying a lot.
Now I’m in. I have a permanent job and have started my career with gusto. How do I want to steer it now? What comes next? It’s five years until I’m eligible for another promotion, but that one doesn’t have the threat of getting fired if it’s negative, so it feels different. What teaching techniques or topics do I want to learn about? explore? try? With whom might I want to collaborate? On what? What does a tenured faculty member do to steer the career ship off the coast and into mid-career waters? (Ok, that just got weird.)
So much feels open. So many possibilities. I think first I’ll take a little time to breathe.
The first few weeks of summer term have been glorious. The weather has cooperated for the most part, and I have been able to take some time to breathe. March and April were more hectic than I anticipated they would be, including a surprise “proofread the entire textbook in the next four weeks” while teaching 8 different classes a week, including a new prep (stats), on top of the two full-textbook reads I expected to complete. [If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ve been working for about a hear and a half on adapting the Cozby research methods textbook into a Cozby and Rawn Canadian Edition.] I’ll write more about my reflections on the year later, but for now I wanted to simply express how thankful I am that I’m in such a peaceful place right now.
After running the Vancouver Marathon two weeks ago, I’ve taken some time off of running. Instead, I’ve been doing a bit of swimming (our condo has a pool) and I signed up for an intro pass at Open Door Yoga. I’ve practiced yoga sporadically since moving to Vancouver 9 years ago (!), but never regularly. It seems like a wonderful way to develop strength, balance, and peace – both inside and out – so I’m giving it a whirl this summer. I’ve also been reconnecting with my friends and husband. It’s challenging for me during the school year to fully, truly relax. There’s always another lesson to prepare, another email to deal with. It’s been lovely just enjoying unscheduled time and laughter and wine with these lovely people once again.
Wherever you are in the world, I hope your summer is starting off at least as enjoyably as mine has.