First Day of School Blues

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My youngest son starts his junior year of high school this week. There is a pile of brand new books ready for his year ahead on the floor of my home office. More than once I have found myself flipping through his English and history texts: no doubt I am more excited about what he will learn in the year ahead than he is. His indifference reminds me how important it is that we as teachers find ways to reinvigorate our students at the start of a new school year and ignite their desire to learn.  


I’m finding this challenge more daunting than ever as we start the fall semester of 2020. All of my courses are online and asynchronous, which means there will never be a moment in which all of the students in one course are simultaneously learning in the same class room. I’m personally struggling with the knowledge that this semester’s “teaching” will not feel like any previous experience. 


Monday was my “first day of school” and it went something like this: first thing in the morning I checked that my learning management system was working properly and responded to dozens of emails. Throughout the day I replied to more emails and then began reading the short introductory assignments that students are posting throughout the week. Later this week I will hold virtual office hours … hopeful that someone will pop up on my screen to say hello or ask a question. I will record lectures for next week’s classes and prepare/post visual aids. All in the solitude of my at-home workspace.


Admittedly, I had a really hard time getting excited about my first day of school, which made me wonder how my students are feeling. My high school-age son returns to his campus this week and will have social interactions with fellow students and teachers. I’m so jealous! For those of us who are completely online and asynchronous there is a strange void that exists and a feeling of intense isolation that is not typical for teachers. I’m wondering how I personally will overcome the physical divide between the students and myself: we are connected this semester by the content rather than the shared space of a classroom. 


Now, more than ever, I’d love to hear from Macmillan Community faculty who, like me, are fully online for the first time in their teaching careers. How are you crossing the divide to ensure that you still connect personally with your students? How will you conduct office hours? What kinds of changes have you made to your syllabi to adjust a formerly in-person class to asynchronous?

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About the Author
Suzanne K. McCormack, PhD, is Professor of History at the Community College of Rhode Island where she teaches US History, Black History and Women's History. She received her BA from Wheaton College (Massachusetts), and her MA and PhD from Boston College. She is currently at work on a study of the treatment of women with mental illness in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Massachusetts and Rhode Island.