Love (and Teaching) in the Time of COVID-19

Instructor Spotlight: Laura Szech, PhD, Assistant Professor of Language and Literacy, UNC Wilmington

Laura Szech instructor spotlight

Teaching is a labor of love and passion. Although a different kind from that of Florentino and Fermina, it is love and passion nonetheless.

Teaching in the time of COVID-19 means embracing the love we have for our profession and our students. Our students need compassion and care more than ever before. We’ve taught through hurricanes, terrorist attacks, tornadoes and floods, but a pandemic is new to all of us (unless you’re Edward Cullen, then you’ve seen it all…). We have to remember that the world is on edge and our students, although likely youthful and healthy, are not immune.

As the death toll rises daily while I am expected to continue teaching, I try to keep Maslow’s (1943) hierarchy of needs in mind. All of us are likely living near the bottom of the pyramid. Some of us, as teachers, as well as our students, are seeking to fulfill our basic physiological needs- we are worrying about running out of food or consistently waking up in the night from anxiety. Even if those needs are relatively stable, many of us are worried about the next step in the hierarchy, safety- that of our own health and safety and of our loved ones, neighbors, and fellow citizens. When these basic needs are not met, we are not primed for learning new information, we are in survival mode.

Students look to teachers to be stable and flexible at the same time, to be organized and adaptable, to be happy and reassuring. Although we are not heroes in capes (or PPE masks), we have to be that for our students right now, even if we don’t feel it. This might just mean a small gesture, like excusing them from an upcoming assignment, or crossing out a reading for the day. It might mean a bigger one, like an individual phone call or a Zoom chat. A student once wrote in my final evaluation that she learned so much from me about being a teacher because early in the semester I, without question, excused her from doing a reading assignment when her life felt like it was falling apart. A reading assignment. Not a final, not a paper, but a one hour piece of homework. I didn’t even remember doing it.

I think that teaching in the time of COVID-19 means we excuse a lot, we cross out a lot. We show up for our students in ways other than grades. We post voice threads and video chats to remind them we are here. We text them. We Zoom, not only to teach our subject, but to connect. We show them we are here and that we know they are humans, too. That’s what teaching is… it’s compassion, it’s love, it’s being there. Content can wait.