An apology to my students

It’s too late now, but I’m sorry I started teaching in-person classes last week. I apologize to my students for putting them in danger in a classroom, however slight.

I want to teach students in-person. I want to look at them in the eye when I talk to them, and sit with them to go over their stories. I want to have those idle few moments before class starts where we share a laugh or a story. And I want to have the 15 minutes after class when several of them line up to talk about assignments. I’ve written about my plans for this semester here and here. I wanted to do what my colleague Andy Bechtel described here.

I met in person with my classes this week. Carroll Hall, where I teach, was a virtual ghost town. Over the course of seven hours, I saw two other instructors, and only one other class besides my two. (I’m sure there were others.) Normally, Carroll is full of students wandering the halls, lurking outside of classrooms and offices, and sitting in public spaces, it was eerily quiet.

Because there are 30 minutes between classes – there were normally 15 – I could get in my classroom and prepare with no problem. And I could linger if I wished.

Wearing a mask was uncomfortable because it got hot and fogged my glasses. Listening to soft-spoken students wearing a mask was difficult at times. Keeping a six-foot distance from them was constraining because I am used to walking around the class. In one class, where the students work in five-person teams, social distancing was next to impossible.

I could have managed all that. But by Wednesday it didn’t seem worth it. And I woke up to this today, which may or may not have been at a UNC gathering.

I’m going to start next week with remote, online classes. And I want to apologize to the students who want to learn in person. I will do everything I can to make this semester valuable and worthwhile.

UPDATE: Thinking about this now, I want to make clear that I make no judgment about my peers who are teaching in-person. This is just me. I trust them to know what is best for themselves and their students.

4 thoughts on “An apology to my students

  1. I’m thinking it’s not you who owes anyone an apology. It’s the UNC System’s Board of Governors.

  2. Beautifully, poignantly, honestly written. You express what so many faculty feel.
    Thank you for telling this brief and to the point story of the actual experience of teaching at this moment.
    The heart of every teacher is missing their students.
    The minds of so many teachers who are following the reporting on the pandemic since March are painfully aware of the risk of serious consequences in reopening the campuses.
    The soul of the teacher should be trusted to find a way through to provide the most
    meaningful and rich learning experience that has at its seat, respect for life, and love of learning, that is necessarily created with eyes on the situation we are in- nothing less. No competing priorities.
    Safety first, and devise/revise the curriculum to meet the demands of this novel and dire situation second.
    Is this not at the heart of teaching?
    To imagine a way through, to problem-solve, to imagine a yet untried, perhaps unproven strategy, adeptly using learned skills in tandem with sound judgement and the resources of creative solution-seeking….curiosity.
    My absolute gratitude and respect for all the educators whose hearts are made so heavy now- who are worried sick- and who can barely know what school year it is and how this is all going to work.

  3. John, you are not at fault. Bless you for trying to do it right. Shame on a university administration that lets money trump good judgment.

Comments are closed.