by Ursula Pike, Associate Director, DigiTex
In May, four educators at DigiTex member institutions shared the ways they were coping with the first months of the pandemic. The resulting blog post, “Meeting Change And Challenge With Compassion And Resilience,” highlighted the need to support faculty at our higher education institutions in the face of the uncertainty of life during COVID-19 lockdown. In the seven months that followed, the pressure on Texas community colleges to educate and support students only intensified. Who could have anticipated that as 2021 dawned, we would have vaccines but no clear idea as to when we could return full time to campus?
As the Fall 2020 semester came to an end, I decided to catch up with those same educators. I was curious what they had learned about themselves and their work during the challenges we all were facing. All of the educators responded, but, one of the original respondents has since left his position and thus is not included here. I am grateful to each of them for taking the time to respond to my questions.
Charlotte Gullick is the Chair of Austin Community College District’s Creative Writing Department. Charlotte wasn’t new to virtual learning and has taught creative writing classes online for many years. Ms. Gullick told me that one of the biggest challenges has been the amount of time she spends at her computer now. Grading time increased because it takes longer to respond to student work when it is all on screen rather than half of it being hard copy. She has warned students to be prepared for a longer response time because of the pandemic. Charlotte said, “I definitely feel less connected to colleagues and faculty.” Underneath the virtual meetings, emails, Slack channels, and other platforms we’ve all started using to communicate with colleagues, the need to connect remains. Just as she said in May, Charlotte continues to feel overwhelmed. But, she is trying to keep clear boundaries around work times and going outside to walk more frequently.
Dr. Chantae Recasner is the Dean for Academic Success and Learning Resources at Alamo Colleges’ Northeast Lakeview College in Universal City, a suburb of San Antonio. During the pandemic, Dr. Recasner’s role expanded to include acting as the Project Director for CARES Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), which provided an intense education about institutional and district-wide budget and finance practices. No wonder she said that “stressful” is the word that best represents her life over the last seven months. Dr. Recasner has come to rely on virtual communication tools such as Zoom even as she “tries to balance between a compulsion to stay engaged (which might be resulting in meeting overkill) and needing to achieve/manage strategic efforts during this time.”
Dr. Recasner said that she is an extrovert and isolation is no fun. She has had to draw clear lines between work and home. “I’m not always sure that’s the safest thing to do professionally, but it is the healthiest thing to do for me.”
Dr. Miles G. Young is the Director of Distance Education & Dual Credit at Northeast Texas Community College in Mount Pleasant, Texas. Dr. Young noticed that as the pandemic has progressed he has been able to find creative ways to accomplish the same objectives relative to his job. He wonders how permanent these “creative” strategies may end up being, but the core of what he does and needs to accomplish has not changed. “My position has traditionally involved in-person visits to other educational institutions in order to provide specific services to students; however, that has not been possible since March, so I’ve had to think about different ways to accomplish the same amount of high-level service at a distance.” Dr. Young has “nothing but the utmost respect for social distancing and the need to take every precaution necessary in order to save lives during the pandemic; I am simply also becoming more aware of the decrease I (and many others) have experienced in interacting face-to-face with my peers.”
Resiliency is the single word that best represents what the last seven months has been like for Dr. Young. As with his May 2020 response, Game Show Network remains king! However, Dr. Young is a people person, and human interaction is a necessity for him. He has found careful ways to spend time around people and enjoyed visiting some friends and family to vent, de-stress, and laugh.
I’ll close with a comment Dr. Recasner made about the need to remember her own needs: “I, too, am a person going through the challenges and realities of a global pandemic and a challenging political economy. Working so hard to ensure others have access to their academic, social, and/or professional needs often drowns out my real, human needs.”
Here’s hoping that in 2021 we’ll all be able to connect and care for ourselves and each other. DigiTex will continue to support and champion your efforts to help students and faculty as we meet the challenges ahead.