Professor jennifer hurley

Slow Teaching During the Coronavirus

Perhaps I jinxed myself when, at the beginning of 2020, I announced to my husband that my word of 2020 was “slow.” Since the coronavirus, slow has become an inescapable reality. There is no traffic to battle, no hallways to rush down, no clutch of students waiting outside my classroom door. There is no yoga class to attend, no shopping to do (save for toilet paper), no events to plan for aside from the daily walking of the dogs.

So here we are in the land of slow, against our will, in opposition to our plans — and this unplanned slowness could go on for weeks, maybe months. Here is the true test of our patience, a type of enforced meditation that might help us rethink how we are living our lives in non-coronavirus times.

I’m teaching on Zoom now, and the funny, surprising thing is that I kind of like it. I’m still seeing my students’ faces, and now I see the little details of their homes. In class the other day, pets started making their appearances, and the chatroom went wild. My heart felt open and fragile to see my students in their bedrooms, their crumpled pillows in the background, their band posters on the walls. Some of my students appear on the screen in their gaming headsets, which makes me love them more, for reasons I cannot articulate.

There’s no way to do things fast on Zoom, and I’ve had to cut down my plans for focus on the essentials. What’s essential to me: That we keep communicating and listening to each other. That we take time to process and think. Zoom actually encourages this slowness because we have to speak one by one, and there is a little more lag time between speakers. My students can talk in small groups on Zoom via the Breakout Rooms feature. If the virus continues for many months, this feature is going to be my lifeline for connected teaching.

In lieu of giving written comments on my students’ essays, I’ve been using Quicktime to record audio comments, in my feedback-without-grades system. The students’ responses to these audio comments have been overwhelmingly positive, and I think it’s because there’s something more kind and helpful about a voice than a written remark. I can offer compliments and appreciations from the heart, and I can explain my critical feedback and the reasons behind it.

These are the gifts of teaching in the era of coronavirus: Slowing down. Connecting in new ways. Seeing glimpses of my students that I wouldn’t otherwise see. And maybe having the space to really find out what matters to me when I’m not distracted by all of the to-do items on my list.

After Spring Break, I hope that I can hold class in my garden, to show my students my lemon tree and the manzanita full of tiny pearl-sized apples. I’m thinking I might ask my students to show us something in their homes. Because if there is one gift from this crisis, it might be the realization that we are all human, all of us flawed and perfect in our uniqueness, and that our education system should be more human, too.



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