I know it’s the middle of the semester for most institutions, but because of a unique schedule we use for some of our students, I had a class that started today. I just finished our first synchronous session and after three hours of discussions, break out rooms, active learning activities and presentations, I’m a little spent. But here I am blogging.
Since the class starts mid-semester and only meets seven times in total, I wanted to hit the ground running today. To prepare for our first class, I sent out an email a few weeks ago letting students know the books we’d be using and that there would be assignments due before our first meeting. I sent another email last week to remind students that we’d be meeting today and explained the assignments they’d be completing in more detail. I also opened the course shell in our learning management system last week so students could read a detailed overview of the assignments. But you can probably see where this is going….
Some students didn’t complete the assignments and weren’t prepared for our class today.
So, what do I do?
In these moments, I feel like I’m a character in a cartoon. I have a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. The devil is telling me to stand firm and to penalize students for their lack of preparation and planning. They had three weeks to buy the book. They had more than a week to complete the assignment. And I sent them multiple reminders.
But the angel is saying something different. The angel reminds me that there’s a pandemic raging and that we’re all being pushed to our limits. The angel reminds me about grace and empathy in teaching, during COVID times and otherwise. But more than that, the angel reminds me that it’s not enough to act with grace and empathy. I have to communicate with it, too. It’s almost like I hear an angelic voice whisper:
“Grace doesn’t come with sarcasm. Or with guilt. Empathy doesn’t get served with a side of snark or a heaping helping of putdowns.”
So, after class, I send emails to the students who hadn’t completed the assignments. I communicate that I know these are stressful times and that there’s a lot of things going on in our personal and professional lives. I also explain that despite missing the assignments, I’d still like them to be submitted. I tell them that I’m offering some grace during this first week and encourage them to try to stay on top of things moving forward. I close the email by offering my assistance.
And that’s it. No snark. No sarcasm. No guilt.
I don’t know if these are the right decisions or not. But I do know they feel right. I don’t know what these students are experiencing outside of my class. And I’ll do my best to listen to the “better angels” and lead and communicate with grace and empathy.