Fall 2020 and Trauma-Informed Teaching

I have always benefited from the generosity of my colleagues and professors. They have been generous in listening, empathizing, critiquing, and extending another chance to correct whatever is or was in need of correcting. And in such a generous and welcoming intellectual environment, I grew.

This summer I met over sixty students through a screen. In some cases, I never saw their faces or heard the sound of their footsteps. We met Monday through Thursday on Zoom for three hours. Some of that time was spent in small groups and some of it class-wide. I counted on one hand the number of absent students. The quiet students opened up in small groups. The more vocal supported their classmates. I have seen this in my classes back when we held class in a room with other people. But perhaps the plague and the need for human contact brought something more out of all of us. It was not perfect: Some had connectivity problems, some had computers that suddenly stopped working, some had to accompany an elder to a doctor—still participating while waiting outside. But what I saw was resilience.

But they could not always do the work “on time.” So I accepted work when it came in. I did not trouble to ask, what happened? In most cases, students were overwhelmed and all of them were new to college—these workshops were at The City College for the SEEK Department’s Summer Immersion. It was intense!

Like this past Summer, this coming Fall semester is unique in that I have never facilitated a class with students with whom I have never been in the same room. Among several steps, many of which have always been in practice, I will increase the number of unofficial office hours I hold, inviting students to talk privately if they need to. My courses are synchronous but there is never enough time to really talk about the many tangents that inevitably spark from conversations about the environment and the individual. They will have work to do, of course, on their own time—what we are now calling “asynchronous” though I still call it “homework.” (It’s all “homework” these days.) I also have all these discussion board and formal essay assignments with deadlines that are malleable, which is what I did in Spring when we suddenly shifted to distance learning, a mode for which none of my students signed up. As my colleagues and professors had done for me, I am ready to listen to my students with a plague-informed ear, one that has experienced the utter lunacy of staring at a screen and talking to it for endless hours—one is reminded of the Jetsons in the worst ways . (Indeed, I had never wanted to teach online, or hybrid, or fully online. I had taken an online course once for a certification and it was fully online and the loneliest experience. And please do not think I am poo-pooing the online learning experience. I am just saying t’isn’t my cup of tea.)

And now, to answer the actual question.

I think this semester my plan is to do the following:

  1. As I always have in my composition classes, I will ask students to freewrite before we begin discussions. But the guided freewriting will at least once a week center on a mindfulness exercise—such as writing about that piece of fruit and all its wonders. (And in my creative writing workshop, I will for at least the first few weeks totally take this mindfulness exercise to the next level by making it a creative piece—stay tuned!)
  2. I will extend office hours as much as I can manage.
  3. Deadlines for assignments will be there for those who need the structure and moveable for those who need more time.
  4. Invite students to suggest edits to the schedule of work. Invite students to help me help them! Most of our students take way too many credits at one time and I have always been aware of that but with this whole distance-learning modality requires me to be aware that not everyone has the sort of space—physical, that is—that I have.

In closing, thank you for this workshop and this assignment (which I dreaded because it’s writing and, well, writing is so difficult!) which has helped me actually relax.