Like many educators working in collegiate environments, I’m currently feeling a mixture of emotions. Under normal circumstances, we’d be gathering for commencement ceremonies and saying goodbye to students we’ve supported as they’ve navigated their undergraduate and graduate programs. Instead of the pride I’d normally be experiencing, I’m feeling a palpable sense of grief as I come to grips with the missed ceremonies of success and the canceled rites of passage that would have typically marked the ends of my students’ academic journeys. Sure, I understand the nature of this pandemic and recognize that these ceremonies needed to be canceled. But it doesn’t make the loss any easier.
In addition to the grief and loss, I also feel a sense of relief and accomplishment. My colleagues and I survived the semester. While there were certainly some chaotic moments, I’m proud of my colleagues for rising to the challenges and providing the best educational opportunities for our students that we could. Working together, we accomplished something unimaginable six months ago. For better or worse, our institution moved all of our academic programming online and by collaborating with one another, we tackled something unthinkable.
As I work through these emotions of grief, sadness, relief and pride, there’s also a feeling of uncertainty as I look ahead to the fall and to the next academic year. I work at a public university and I’ve read predictions like those from Bryan Alexander who writes that COVID-19 “will change faculty life forever.” Alexander identifies as an “educational futurist” and is a really smart guy. I’ve seen him speak a bunch of times and I’ve always left his presentations with my mind reeling. The possible changes that Alexander predicts may occur to our academic institutions and professional lives are staggering.
And then there’s the reality of scheduling for the fall. Recently, Inside Higher Ed outlined fifteen possible scenarios for the fall semester. Some of them seem pretty unlikely. While currently many institutions seem to be planning for in-person classes, I don’t expect institutions will be “back to normal” in the fall. I also don’t foresee many schools moving their fall semesters to spring or only bringing first year students to campus next year. While some of the other scenarios that Inside Higher Ed presents may seem more likely, they would require significant professional development to prepare for the pedagogical and technological transitions that would be required for successful implementation. For example, I don’t know how many educators would be able to transition to a HyFlex model without some significant training and support.
So, here I am, amidst a sea of emotions. Grief. Relief. Pride. Uncertainty.
But let me add one more emotion into the mix… Optimism.
Yes, despite the uncertainty for the fall semester and the dark future that people like Bryan Alexander predict, I’m still optimistic that things will be okay. Like this past semester, I trust that my colleagues and I will rise to the challenges we face this summer and this fall. While things are uncertain, I know that we’ll collaborate to do the best we can for our students. Our classrooms and role may look a little different than we’re accustomed, but we’ll be as effective as we can under whatever circumstances we face.