Director’s Blog

So Long 2020

by | Dec 15, 2020 | Director's Blog

For my final post of the year, I’m reflecting on 2020 – what a dumpster fire. Reflection over.

But seriously, it was an incredibly challenging, exhausting, frustrating, emotional year, for so many different reasons. I don’t need to recount those reasons, and I don’t need to rehash how difficult remote teaching has been. I’ve been talking to faculty throughout out this time, and I know the obstacles you all have been facing. Many of you shared how disconnected you feel from your teaching. “I never wanted to be an online teacher,” I often heard. Despite these challenges, DTEI has never been busier. So many of you attended our workshops, our webinars, our working groups. You were still committed to being good teachers and learning new technologies and strategies. I am so impressed by the hard work and dedication you have shown to your students. I am grateful to be here working with all of you.

I recently read Wintering by Katherine May, and one passage stuck with me as she described her difficulty with university teaching. She writes, “In teaching, you cannot walk into the room unhappy or unwilling. You must sacrifice your own energy for your students’, throw your personal reluctance onto the pyre of their lack of interest. You must do without the traditional pedagogic luxury of believing that the people you teach are lazy or rude or entitled. You do it instead, knowing that they are all straining under the load of their own grief, their own fear, their own burdens of work and care. You walk into your classroom and try to entertain this mass of people just enough for them to learn something that will help to alleviate their woes in the future.” This rings especially true during the pandemic. Another layer to this sacrifice is that your own suffering as a result of 2020 stays in the shadows each time you log onto Zoom to teach. We encourage our students to share when they are struggling and ask for help, but it doesn’t work the other way around. I once cried in front of my class after my dog died. My students were gracious, but it was still very awkward. It felt like I had just done something that wasn’t allowed, even though I had lost track of the number of students who had cried about various things in front of me. Sometimes, half the battle of teaching is pretending you have it all together when really the classroom is the last place you want to be. While academia is working to create space for student trauma, there’s little space for faculty trauma.

While I see you and appreciate you, your students do too. We often hear more from the complainers than from those who sing our praises. So a few years ago, DTEI started the Thank a Teacher program where students could anonymously share their appreciation with their professors and TAs. This quarter, we received more responses from students than we ever have. I want to share a few of those responses to close out the year and show you that your work matters.

“Thank you for being so kind and understanding to your students. My friends and I all really appreciate that you are trying so hard to be accommodating to us during this online schooling process without compromising the academic rigor of the course. You really have made this quarter and class very enjoyable to me. You are an instructor that challenges me to study hard and motivates me to challenge myself to do better because I feel believed in and listened to. Thank you for this quarter!”

“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of the valuable time you spend teaching students how to critically think and stand up for what they believe in. You always made me feel that my opinions were valid and this is such a rarity when it comes to most professors! You probably don’t realize it, but you’ve made such an impact on so many students’ lives, especially mine! This is just a small token of my gratitude.”

“Thank you so much for your patience and enthusiasm in class. Introducing a language to students is very difficult, and it is especially a tougher task now that we are using Zoom and in a pandemic. I thought learning a new language would be scary and too difficult, but you have made the process much better than I thought it would be. You make class so fun and we can definitely see that you truly care for each and every one of us. Keep up the fantastic job!”

I’ll catch you all again in 2021.

In other news…

What I’m currently reading: All the Young Men by Ruth Coker Burks. This memoir tells the story of how Ruth started caring for young men dying of AIDS in Arkansas in the 1980s when even their families refused to see them. It’s both heartbreaking and inspiring to read about her sitting with these men so they wouldn’t die alone.

What I’m currently drinking: It’s the holidays – what am I not drinking?

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.