Reflecting & Connecting on Day One: Returning to the Physical Classroom Space

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As I’m thinking about the start of the new school year I’m brainstorming the return to campus. At my community college, a return to campus in September will mean students in the physical classrooms after nearly eighteen months of remote learning. I’m wondering how to help students reconnect in that physical space after working independently for so long. Usually the first day of classes is spent discussing the syllabus and course expectations. While these tasks will still be part of my plan, I’ve decided to also have students group-share on that first day to discuss how their working lives have changed as a result of the pandemic. 


Here are some of the questions I will have students address in small groups: 


  • Did you work before the pandemic began? If so, what did you do? 
  • How did the earliest months of the pandemic impact your personal work life or the experiences of those with whom you live?
  • Did you change jobs during the pandemic? If so, why/why not?
  • What was your experience seeking work during the pandemic?
  • How could a historian document your pandemic work experience? What artifacts may exist that could help tell the story of your experience in the future?
  • What do you want students one hundred years from now to know about your pandemic-era work experiences?


I’m inspired to start the semester with this discussion because I believe that the majority of my students or their families will have experienced some significant work-related changes during the pandemic era. We spend a great deal of time in my US history classes studying the changes that came about during the First and Second World Wars in regards to work. The most recognizable icon to students on the first day of US History II is always “Rosie the Riveter” -- even if they cannot explain her significance they are able to link her to World War II. I’m hoping to help students to see that their experiences during the pandemic will one day be the subject of study in history classes.


In addition, I’m hoping that by focusing on work rather than health issues during the pandemic I can help the students connect to each other without delving too deeply into painful personal experiences/losses that may have occurred as a result of COVID-19. I want the students, from the very first day back together in the classroom, to be reminded of their shared experiences as a society over the past eighteen months. 


Do you have any plans for re-integrating students into the physical classroom this fall? Please share.

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.