Professors: this fall, please teach with empathy

Photo supplied by Shelby Talbot

When students logged into their online courses last week and perused the syllabi, it’s frustrating that some classes might’ve had them thinking, ‘I can’t do this.’

The transition to online learning has been difficult for students and educators alike. Elements of some courses simply don’t translate to remote learning. As students, we need to extend patience and understanding to our teaching teams as they make this adjustment.

In exchange, professors and teaching staff must be cognizant of the challenges facing students this fall.

Teaching teams focused on preserving the essence of the in-person requirements of their courses, rather than student success and wellbeing, aren’t prioritizing the right things. What’s most important this year isn’t that labs and discussions operate as closely to ‘normal’ as possible—it’s that students feel as safe and comfortable as they can while continuing their education through the pandemic.

Students returning to their studies this fall aren’t entitled to an ‘easy’ term. But a course can remain academically challenging while still accounting for the unique and unprecedented extenuating circumstances many Queen’s students are facing. It doesn’t take too much—just a little empathy and flexibility.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devasting impact on Canadians’ mental health. Students specifically have reported facing increased levels of stress due to academic disruptions, lost employment opportunities, and financial concerns.

This fall, some students will be learning from disruptive or unhealthy home environments. Some will be grappling with the impact of COVID-19 on a loved one’s health. Some will be taking classes from a drastically different time zone. Some will be working more than they have any other academic year to support themselves or their family.

It’s inevitable that personal circumstances are going to play a considerable role in impacting students’ academic success this year. Much of this impact will be outside of students’ control. As educators, it’s vital that professors and teaching staff keep the barriers their students may be navigating in the forefront of their minds as they operate courses this year.

Being flexible doesn’t compromise the integrity of a class. If courses don’t require an in-person component, don’t risk student health and safety. If synchronous activities can be recorded for students who couldn’t attend class, think about uploading lectures for access later. If you’ve never offered extensions before, I implore you to consider it now.

Everyone is going through a difficult time right now—we all need to do what we can to make things easier, not harder, on each other. Teaching courses with empathetic consideration for students’ needs is the best way professors can do just that.

Shelby is a third-year English student and The Journal’s Lifestyle Editor.

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