Director’s Blog

Pandemic Pedagogy: Self Preservation

by | Nov 23, 2020 | Director's Blog

I’d like to take a moment to shift focus from students to you, the faculty, as part of this pandemic pedagogy series. Since the switch to remote teaching, we’ve been going fast and furious how to teach and support students as they experience tech problems, wildfires, food insecurity, homelessness, job loss, COVID, and the list goes on. But this list isn’t exclusive to students. Faculty are facing personal challenges on various levels while also helping students navigate their crises. I’ve heard from many instructors who are overwhelmed by the trauma their students are experiencing. Because faculty are now the main connection for students with UCI, students are disclosing their hardships more and more. And faculty are not trained to deal with this, let alone deal with this on top of their own hardships.

Today’s post is about the importance of self care. And I don’t mean self care like make sure you’re taking a spa day every week. I mean self preservation- that you are taking care of your needs and setting compassionate boundaries so that you don’t burn out while trying to support your students 24/7. Because while your intentions may be good, it’s a) not your job to support students 24/7 and b) there are campus counselors and social workers who are trained to help students in crisis. It’s not selfish to know your limits when it comes to your teaching, especially during a global pandemic. So how can you still support students while also preserving your own wellbeing? Here are my thoughts…

  • Set communication limits. Don’t feel like you need to respond to student emails at any hour. Set aside a specific time when you respond to student emails and communicate that to students. To help mitigate the number of emails you get, set up a Q&A discussion board on Canvas. Students can post their questions about the class there instead and then the whole class can see your answer, which eliminates multiple emails with the same question. Bonus: often times students will answer each other, freeing up even more time for you.
  • Build in flexibility ahead of time. Make assignments due over the course of three days. Give students a week to do a take-home exam. Drop everyone’s lowest quiz score. Doing things like this will cut down on the requests for extensions. It will also allow students to manage a crisis without feeling like they need to share the details of it with you.
  • Share UCI resources on your Canvas page. Make sure students know where to go when they need help without having to email you. Consider mentioning it in person on the first day of class as well. Let students know it’s ok to ask for help, even if it’s just needing someone to talk to.
  • If a student does confide in you about trauma or a crisis, remember that you don’t have to be the one to solve their problem. And in some cases, it isn’t appropriate for you to try and help. Sometimes students need help from a trained professional. Ask the student what they need and if their needs extend beyond what you can do in the class, refer them to UCI resources. Be compassionate while also recognizing the limits in your role as their professor. Check out our new website on trauma-informed teaching for more advice.
  • Go low-tech. There are so many tools available to help with student engagement, cheating, video creation, etc that some faculty feel pressure to use as many as possible. But more is not always better, especially if you’re not familiar with the tool. Technology can become a time suck when you and your students struggle with it and just cause more frustration than ease. If all you use is Canvas and Zoom, that’s great! More tech does not equal better teaching, so focus on what you truly need to make your class work and let the rest go.
  • Make videos and handouts that you can use again or in multiple classes with similar topics. No, this does not make you lazy or someone who cuts corners. It makes you someone who then has more time to focus on other things (like yourself, your family, your interests outside of work).

And now for two of my coping skills…

What I’m currently reading: Deacon King Kong by James McBride. This novel was just named one of the top 5 books of the year by the NYT. While I wouldn’t say it’s one of my top reads of the year, it certainly has some of the best dialog and characters. It’s simultaneously tragic and darkly humorous.

What I’m currently drinking: I actually haven’t tried this yet, so no endorsement. But for Thanksgiving pre-dinner cocktails, we’ll be making Golden Hour Cocktails (bourbon, Lillet, and Aperol). My bourbon kick continues.

Andrea Aebersold

Andrea Aebersold

Director, Faculty Instructional Development

Andrea Aebersold is the Director of Faculty Instructional Development at University of California, Irvine. She earned a PhD in English and was an associate professor of teaching before coming to UCI. She specializes in active learning, evidence-based teaching, and reading mountains of books.