Reflections on Remote Teaching
Prof. Bill Stevens reflects on his remote teaching experience during COVID-19.
I just hit "submit" on grades from spring quarter. We switched to a fully online format at SCU on March 10, 2020. The last 15 months of remote teaching has been the heaviest lift of my professional life; I am certain that many/most teachers would say the same. And now, with hundreds of sound files posted to Google Drive and more than 1400 one-on-one phone/zoom sessions with students behind me, there is at least the possibility of bringing this chapter to a close.
I was expecting to feel something, maybe like the huge wave of relief when driving away from the vaccine clinic - Lynn and I pumping our arms in synchronized slow-motion every time we stopped at a red light. I wasn't expecting to have a good cry and feel like I really wanted to throw up. I don't feel elated - not yet. It's more like I'm coming out of shock and can let myself start to relax for the first time in over a year, having worked through much of last summer, having worked through Thanksgiving break, having worked through the winter holidays, and having worked through spring break; remote teaching has been a seriously heavy lift. Celebration will happen, to be sure - but first I think we need to hold a funeral to honor the bigness of what has passed.
And, I am so proud of the learning that my students have done. This wasn't faking it. This wasn't marking time until we could get back to the real thing. This was valuing standards, work-ethic, accountability, and adaptability. This was making a zillion accommodations to support students individual learning needs and the challenges of non-traditional learning environments.
I was afraid, going in, that I wouldn't get to know my students in the same way without the live-classroom experience. This was true; I did not get to know them the same way. I got to know them so much more deeply, because I never get 15 minutes of one-on-one time with every student every week when teaching in the classroom.
More than two thirds of my level 3 class this spring have only taken classes with me online. We do some seriously hard stuff in that class - working in a dozen new meters, doing all kinds of melodic skips with chromatic tones, learning to swing (a bit), hitting the basics of blues harmony, playing pivots with all seven modes, and drilling diatonic functions with clave and cha-cha-cha rhythms. My grading system is relentlessly objective, and I just submitted lots of A's and A-'s. They earned these grades. They earned them without the support of group exams, without extra points for attendance and participation, and without a campus culture of going to class at 9:15 every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
To my students I am proud of you for showing up. I am proud of you for rising to this horrendous challenge. I am proud of every breakdown that became an opportunity for a breakthrough. I am proud - and I am grateful. I may have learned more in the last four quarters about how to be an effective teacher than during the entire rest of my time at SCU. Your willingness to show up and learn anyway - to be real with me about what was working and what wasn't - this was a remarkable gift that you gave to me. Thank you!
And now, it’s time for a peanut butter sandwich and it’s time for a nap! It’s also time for summer to happen, for real! Bring on the body surfing and bring on the quality time (in person this year) with friends and family!