Tomorrow will be my last day blogging for a little while. I know the social distancing will likely go on for several more weeks (at least), but Monday Ozark goes fully online for the rest of the semester, and I’m going to be plenty busy with that.
Since tomorrow will be my last day, I’d love to try to answer some specific questions that you might be wondering about. Comment either here or on Facebook or send me an email.
Speaking of teaching online…There are really two big challenges to finishing the semester online. There’s obviously the technical challenge. It normally takes months to design and launch a professional online class. Most college professors around the country had about two weeks to totally rethink and redesign their courses for online delivery. It is a huge challenge. Fortunately at Ozark we are well positioned to move into an online space. I won’t get into all the details here, but online learning is something that a large percentage of our faculty have already done in some form or another. And our online learning department has been absolutely stellar in making sure we are resourced and ready to go. We have to remember it is also a huge challenge for students too. Students didn’t go into this semester anticipating having to finish online and at home. They too must overcome unforeseen technical obstacles.
That leads me to the second challenge which is not technical but pastoral. I wrote on Facebook as this crisis was starting to unfold that I’m so happy that I work with a bunch of pastors turned academics. I’m surrounded by colleagues and friends who are skilled pastors first and foremost. They are pastors who happen to teach. Forgive me if this sounds like an Ozark commercial so far. I’m just really proud of my team. The point is that in this moment many students might need a pastor more than they need a professor. They are not just taking classes online. They are taking classes online in the midst of a pandemic. They are dealing with anxiety, fear, and frustration. They may be sick or helping someone close to them who is sick. They may have been forced back into unhealthy home situations when the campus closed. These are not ordinary online students, so they need more than an ordinary online instructor.
To put it another way, students are operating with limited bandwidth. My home network is way stressed right now. Seems like every person in my house is streaming something different from a device. My service has been real spotty and inconsistent most of the week. Many of my students are struggling with emotional and mental bandwidth right now. I know this because I too am struggling with limited bandwidth right now. We are being taxed by too many things, too quickly, and it may be affecting our ability to concentrate or to cope in healthy ways.
So here’s what I really wanted to say tonight to take some of the pressure off. Give yourself permission to not have a perfect quarantine. First of all, we should remember that not everyone is having the same quarantine experience. For some people like my wife, she has to go to work as usual. For others, they may have lost their jobs or had their hours dramatically cut. Many more are trying to figure out what it means to work from home. But secondly, if you are among those who are suddenly and interminably stuck at home, don’t turn into the Clark Griswold of the coronavirus. You know Clark Griswold, the bumbling but well-meaning dad who only wants to create the perfect family memory. But his obsession leads to disaster and general misery for everyone close to him. Don’t make yourself and your kids miserable by trying to keep up with the other, sudden homeschool experts on Facebook. “Hey kids, while you were busy playing Fortnite, the Jones kids dissected a frog today.” You’ve probably seen the meme that is meant to inspire but just comes off as annoying. “Isaac Newton discovered gravity when he was on quarantine. What have you done besides over-indulge in Oreos and Netflix?” Come on! I’m glad for the person out there who finally has time to work on that cancer cure or to write the next great American novel. But that’s not me, and it’s likely not you either. I’m just going to do my best. Oh, I’m going to get off the couch. I’m going to (eventually) change out of my sweats, and I’m going to do things that I’m proud of or just do things that need to be done. But I’m also not going to apologize for feeding my kids chicken nuggets instead of “exploring new exotic recipes with the family.” We may take advantage of our evenings and reconnect over board games. What’s more likely however is that we’ll go to opposite ends of the house because we are stinking tired of each other. You know what? That’s okay. You don’t need to turn every moment in quarantine into an Instagram moment.
This is just a suggestion. If you are already struggling with limited emotional and mental bandwidth, don’t add to the stress by trying to have the perfect quarantine. It’s okay to have good days and bad days. Set some realistic goals that you can feel good about. If you’re struggling, talk to someone and be honest with them. This is everyone’s first pandemic. Give yourself a break.