[This has been without a doubt the most challenging and exhausting semester in my 16 years at FSU and 20 years of college teaching. But I’ve also learned a ton, and for this end of semester series I wanted to reflect on a handful of those lessons. Please share some of yours—and any other Fall 2020 reflections and thoughts—for a crowd-sourced weekend post of solidarity and support!]
On the most fundamental and crucial lesson.
My post title is a famous Kurt Vonnegut quote, so I’ll start by sharing this wonderful Wonkette column from Doktor Zoom, updating Vonnegut’s advice and perspective for life in late 2020. Check that out, then come on back!
Welcome back! I’m gonna try to get a bit further into the pedagogical weeds as the week goes along, because I do feel that I’ve learned some specific things about my teaching during these trying times that might be of use to y’all (and will certainly be helpful for me to think through in this space in any case). But without question, the most clear and crucial thing I learned would have to be a sequel to this semester preview post from back in late August, where I described my new syllabus/policy statement and principle of care. I meant what I said then and there, but I can’t lie, I had no idea just how much that underlying principle would feel essential—not just helpful or meaningful, but absolutely essential—to teaching and work and life over these last few months.
I imagine I’m preaching to the choir here, so I won’t dwell at great length on this lesson. But I will add this: while of course Fall 2020 is a specific circumstance, and I hope (I hope I hope I hope) one that won’t become anything close to a new normal, I’d say this lesson does apply even in more normal/typical circumstances and semesters. Which is to say: I know I have colleagues and friends who would argue that “rigor” is a central goal of our classes and of the college academic experience overall. I’m certainly not averse to offering readings, assignments, conversations that challenge my students and all of us in all sorts of ways. But I believe, now more than ever, that we do provide such intellectual challenges while also (and relatedly) offering social and emotional and communal support, solidarity, sympathy, and, yes, kindness. Because as Fall 2020 has made so potently clear: whatever else we do and try to do and hope to do, god damn it, we’ve got to be kind.
Next lesson tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Fall 2020 lessons, challenges, reflections you’d share for the weekend post?