Aaaaand We're Back! (-ish): Supporting Students in the Return to Classrooms

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For those of us who were new to online teaching when the pandemic began, the learning curve was steep. I am grateful to the Bedford Bits community for the insights and straight-up “how-tos” that helped so many of us navigate disembodied teaching. 

Now, many of us are back in the classroom, remembering how good it can feel to teach and learn with our whole unmuted bodies. We worry about keeping this good feeling going if Delta, Lambda, or Mu drive us back online.

My university has a mask mandate, so I have been luckier than many of my colleagues about safety in the classroom. While I’ve heard some grumbles, my first-semester students seem positively giddy to be back in person, and masks seem a small price to pay. I’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness students are showing one another, despite the polarizing behavior that keeps making the news. Students remind me, constantly, why classrooms can be a space of optimism and compassion. Eric D. Brown describes this well in his recent post about empathy and collaboration in the writing classroom.  ​​

I’ve realized it’s the extraverbal murmur of the classroom that I’d missed in Zoom’s “mute-yourself” environment. For example, on the first day of discussing a challenging excerpt of Mary Wollstonecraft’s 18th century writing on education and gender equity, the first student who shot up a hand to respond to “What did you think?” said, with operatic drama, “Two words: ‘Yas, Queen!’” After a beat, the room exploded in laughter and nods, and I energetically scrawled the comment in huge letters on the chalkboard, dust flying, while other students shouted out in agreement: “Oh, yeah -- Per. I. Od! You know?” “YES! Mic drop!” What joy to feel again that noisy buzz, the snap of electricity through the room, the gasps and hum of embodied learning.

I’d love to hear how others are making the most of being back in in the classroom, even as we navigate masking, COVID testing, and classrooms that are often poorly ventilated and too crowded. Every day we can stay in person feels precious, and I’m embracing the unique tools of the physical environment. I invite students up to write on the board, empowering them to call on their peers and steer the conversation, watching them enjoy the power of holding the chalk and the figurative mic. I sent them on a scavenger hunt for academic resources around our campus, which is why I’m alone in the photo above. I guarded their backpacks while they took goofy group selfies with a librarian, visited the Writing Center, and located the Counseling Center, taking note of their services. When they returned to our classroom, gasping with the effort of running around campus, one group showed off by proving they knew everyone’s first, middle, and last names, and other funny personal details, cracking each other up with a friendly rapport denied them over the past year and a half. Despite all our social skills having atrophied over the last year, we are remembering the feelings of belonging and comfort that can come from talking with people we don’t yet know, as Joe Keohane describes in this recent article in The Atlantic

What are you trying in your classrooms -- in person or online -- to help students stay motivated and connected to one another during the marathon of this pandemic?


Image Credit: Photograph of the author in her classroom, taken by the author.



About the Author
April Lidinsky (PhD, Literatures in English, Rutgers) is Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Indiana University South Bend. She has published and delivered numerous conference papers on writing pedagogy, women's autobiography, and creative nonfiction, and has contributed to several textbooks on writing. She has served as acting director of the University Writing Program at Notre Dame and has won several awards for her teaching and research including the 2015 Indiana University South Bend Distinguished Teaching Award, the 2017 Indiana University South Bend Eldon F. Lundquist Award for excellence in teaching and scholarly achievement, and the All-Indiana University 2017 Frederic Bachman Lieber Memorial Award for Teaching Excellence.