A thank you note to my students

There’s been a lot written on students becoming disengaged and even dropping out as a result of the stresses they have experienced during the pandemic. The stresses on students have been and continue to be significant. Some of those students may never recover and their futures will be forever impacted. 

But many students have persevered and as I reflect on the past two years, I realize I want to send those students, particularly the students in my classes, my thanks.

I want to thank my students for sticking with it. Many of my students started college with the expectation that throughout their college experience they would be on campus and engaging face-to-face with faculty and other students. When COVID turned the world upside down, the majority of my students persevered through the gauntlet of changes they faced because they valued learning and wanted desperately to continue on the path they had set for themselves – they logged on to Zoom again and again and again…

And in that new territory of the virtual classroom (and later the masked classroom) my students partnered with me, and we learned to navigate these new spaces as explorers in a new frontier. We knew what we wanted to achieve – the student learning outcomes that defined the goals of the course – and we worked together to figure out how to navigate to those goals in a new educational environment.

And together we navigated through pedagogical experiments – my attempts to work within the constraints of our shared new reality and to provide students with engaging approaches that helped to build our community, support their learning, provide students with useful feedback, and in the end, provide me with evidence that allowed me to assess their learning fairly and transparently.  

We also worked together to navigate non-class-related issues that were new to all of us. Students reached out to let me know of a host of problems they were encountering such as helping family members who were in quarantine, dealing with challenging dynamics in their home, and trying to solve technical issues with computers, phones, and wi-fi – issues that pre-pandemic might have been easily resolved but were now major hurdles that impacted students’ access to resources and ability to learn. And students also reached out to let me know of their friends and peers who needed support but who weren’t sure how or were unable to ask for or get help. 

Finally, I want to thank my students because their perseverance during the last two years helped me to make changes to my courses that will positively impact my future students. These past two years have forced me to rethink much of what I’ve done in the past and to make changes to better support student learning. My syllabi are more welcoming and the documents students need to access for my courses are now easily readable by text to speech programs. I’ve revised many of the activities and assignments in my courses and worked to improve the alignment between the work I ask students to do and the learning outcomes I want them to achieve. I’ve also improved my ability to communicate with students about why the work they are doing in my class is important to their learning. I’ve learned ways to be more accessible to my students by integrating one-on-one Zoom meetings into my office hours and by using Slack as a way for my students and me to communicate more easily and informally when casual conversations in the hallway aren’t possible. And I’ve learned to use our course management system more effectively so that students can easily find and track the work they need to complete for my course and so that they are always able to see their current grade in the course. 

I hope that all of us who lived through this pandemic as teachers are able to find time to reflect on what we have learned from this experience and to recognize the thanks we owe our students for their perseverance and support of our learning.

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