Many Blogs Later, More Jumbled Thoughts

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This week’s blog is my 101st for the Macmillan Community! While I wish I had a provocative way to remark upon the experience of blogging about teaching history, instead, as I prepare to start a new academic year, I face my annual anxiety about what is to come in the year ahead. So, this week I offer more jumbled thoughts.


First, I’m thinking about how much I miss being on campus and lamenting that I will continue to long for a return to academic normalcy for at least one more semester. Enrollment at my community college is such that demand for online courses is outpacing on-campus offerings. The unknowns of the Delta variant, amongst other factors, means that all of my courses are running this fall as remote, asynchronous once again. I had such high hopes for being back in the traditional classroom that, admittedly, it’s going to take a little extra effort on my part to generate excitement for remaining full online. Are you on campus or online? What challenges are you facing as you prepare for either format or a combination of both? 


Second, I’m thinking about the college search process and how overwhelming it can be for students. I’ve spent a good part of this summer prodding my youngest son to look at colleges. Our conversations in the car after campus tours have reminded me that students on the cusp of transitioning from secondary to higher education need our compassion just as much if not more than our content expertise. It has occurred to me several times during these visits that at 17 years old I had absolutely zero plans to be a historian. To paraphrase my son after one presentation: “looking at colleges is really scary.” No doubt! As a parent and professor I’m often just as confused about which college would be best when I leave the information sessions/tours as I was when we arrived on campus. It's no surprise to me that many of my students come to community college after spending time a four-year school that was not the right "fit." There has to be a better way. Ideas? Advice?


Finally, as a historian, I continue to reflect on how best to help my students place themselves within the context of this unprecedented time in American history. Just as we thought society was moving towards a new “normal” we find ourselves again facing mask mandates and engaging in debates about the value of vaccination. No doubt this is a confusing time for students and teachers alike. As always, I encourage fellow teachers to reference times in our history when we’ve faced similar challenges. I recently started listening to the inaugural season of the Intervals podcast released this year by the Organization of American Historians and available free of charge through Spotify. Subjects include yellow fever, smallpox, the influenza outbreak of 1918, and the use of disinfectants during the Gilded Age. It’s easy to get drawn in by the fascinating subjects of this fabulous series. Any one of the episodes could offer an early-semester writing prompt in a history or English class.


As we approach this new academic year, what are you thinking about? What challenges do you anticipate as we move into this new phase of pandemic-era higher education? Please share.



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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.