Getting back into the flow of the school year

Tomorrow is the start of our Fall 2020 schedule, pushed back a week from our original plan and now fully online for the first two weeks before transitioning to in-person instruction for those students who have returned to campus (or, from an instructor perspective, hybrid instruction as essentially all of us have some number of students studying remotely).

I am, on paper, prepared. My CMS is loaded up with day-by-day details about what we’ll be doing so everyone can follow along. I’ve met individually with each student in my intermediate-level course to make sure they have the needed software installed and working, that they know how to screen-share, and to make sure I’ve had a chance to meet all of them and ask about their questions and concerns before the start of the term. My upper-level course got a welcome video and guidance on what to do to get ready as well as an invitation to meet if they wanted, which a fair number took me up on. I felt less urgency to ensure each of those students had met with me before class started as I’ve taught them all before and, at the upper level, it felt appropriate to trust them to make sure their Eclipse install was working or reach out to me if they needed help.

With instruction beginning on-line, I’m being able to separate out the stress of starting classes from the stress of how to safely return to a physical classroom with students. This is hugely helpful and, while not the reason we are following this plan, is a benefit of the plan. I’m hoping that these first two weeks also reassure students that, while we will try to meet in person, things will be okay if we have to be online.

But, it doesn’t feel like the new school year is about to start. We had a faculty retreat, but it was virtual and lacked the usual chatting about summer activities and plans for the Fall that usually takes places during breaks. I haven’t been going to campus to make sure the classroom is set up or printing out copies of my syllabus. We didn’t have departmental receptions to welcome our new students or put on our regalia and gather for Matriculation. The tempo of that last week of summer before classes start was totally off, and apparently I count on those cues to get my head into teaching mode.

Assorted Masks So I am trying to spend this weekend doing things to¬† create the right mindset. I don’t need printed copies of the syllabus, but I have my roster printed out and a folder set up for each class, though I know the paperwork will be lighter than usual this year. I’m reviewing my course plans, practicing the conversations we’ll have to get things started, practicing the demos I want to give – much more than I usually would at the start of the term. And, while not necessary yet, anticipating the days when I’ll be teaching masked and likely wanting to be able to change out masks between my morning and afternoon classes (plus backups if needed), I spent yesterday evening sewing up enough face masks to get me through a week without any stress about laundry.

The big decision – I’m also going to try teaching from my campus office, at least for the first day. Getting up, getting dressed, and driving in to campus feels like a good mental cue that summer is over. As a nice side benefit, I suspect it might set more of a “we are back at school” tone for the students than seeing that I’m still at home. I might not do it for the full two weeks (prudence suggests that I be prepared to teach from home as needed at any point this semester). But I’m actually a bit excited to have my first day back to school actually be back at school.

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