The Trending Prof

Anita Woods Ph.D., University Educator
Teaching After Trauma

Teaching After Trauma

This past year hasn’t just been hard for students, it’s been hard for educators too. I recognized the challenge of motivation students must have experienced, and loss of connection they expressed with me, as I felt similarly but of course not the same. I was vulnerable with them and shared my lows, the real gritty lows and also my hopefulness to help encourage them. I have tried my best to frame things in the positive and to be forward-thinking, all the while trying to develop an exceptional educational experience, regardless of the format. In all of this, I put everyone else ahead of my feelings and needs. My kids well being and ALL of my students, were more important, so I SLAVED to make their experiences outstanding, regardless of the cost to me.

The 2020-2021 academic year will likely forever be seared in my brain as that year we moved mountains and somehow survived. The year my own kids bounced between in person and online school and somehow I was magically supposed to continue to do all the things without dropping to my knees in exhaustion. It will be the year my hair started to fall out in clumps and I was terrified I may actually be bald by the end.

But I am proud of our department. We did well with the massive shift to online courses. I and most of my colleagues didn’t take holidays and didn’t rest on weekends, a marathon for the last 14 months. We created a miracle and managed to deliver 28 courses fully online, and it was no small feat. Of course, despite all of the efforts, our year online wasn’t perfect, how could it be at that speed and volume? And because I can’t just let things be as they are, I had already started to develop plans and thoughts around what is next, trying to predict the fall and what modifications we would need to make in what I thought was going to be some form of blended/online 2.0, at least for the fall semester.

So my jaw was (and still is) on the ground when it was announced that our institution will be fully face to face in the fall, with all the people back in our classrooms like it was in 2019. My brain had not allowed for that, I haven’t been able to reconcile that as a notion. Perhaps it is the rollercoaster of the last year which is keeping me back. Of course I want to be free to choose how to design my classes without the threat of a virus and all that comes with it. But, I haven’t felt released to that reality yet as we are still very much in the depths of the pandemic here in Ontario. However, I am choosing to trust our administrators that this is a very reasonable possibility and we will plan accordingly. I will also, because I can’t help it, plan a backup in case we aren’t able to have students without social distancing because that is just what I do. More work for me, but I’ll sleep better at night with that in place.

So when I read and hear that we are being called out as “coddled” as educators if we want to be online, it makes my head want to explode. As if the choices were out of convenience. The choices are not. They are out of survival. It is not a want, but a way to plan to navigate how it is we would continue to educate 500-600 students who may or may not be vaccinated, in spaces that would squash them all in side by side. We are trying to make the best decisions with what we have and trying to predict what it will be in a short 3 months. I have been continuously asked by my institution to be excellent, but also flexible and that has come at a huge cost. It is what we had to do, and I would do it again because I knew it was right but the planning for this upcoming year feels more exhausting and more challenging than the last. As if we have to forget what we all just experienced and blissfully return and pretend that we will be covid free in 90 days. I am not coddled, I am traumatized.

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