Mark James Miller: Hancock teachers and the ‘new normal’
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Mark James Miller: Hancock teachers and the ‘new normal’

Mark James Miller

“I miss the face-to-face contact.”

“Something is missing.”

“I miss being with my students.”

As Hancock College’s part-time instructors adapt to the “new normal” brought on by the coronavirus, one theme is constant: With all classes now being taught remotely, they miss being in the classroom with their students.

“I need to look into their faces,” said math instructor Dave Yundt. “I want to see if they are stuck or puzzled.”

While they are becoming more comfortable with teaching remotely, using either Zoom or Cranium Café, they miss the traditional format, especially the physical contact with their students.

“I hope and pray this is not the new normal,” said one.

Teaching remotely requires adjustment for the teachers and students. Unable to physically interact with students causes teachers to wonder if their pupils are being well-served. Are they learning what they are supposed to be learning? Are they able to get all they should out of a lesson?

Instructors are being as positive as they can and see rays of hope everywhere. Some are using the enforced time at home to revive hobbies or to engage in self-help.

“I can start making earrings again,” said English instructor Mary Weyandt.

“The crisis has provided opportunities for families to spend more time together,” said Wilma Sukrad, another English instructor. “Although the experience has been inconvenient, it has a silver lining. We will be better prepared should another crisis present itself.”

Psychology instructor Maria Mandziara said, “I encourage my students to be positive … We love staying home and taking the two dogs for a walk.”

“I am doing more studying of languages Welsh, Irish and Navajo,” Emergency Medical Services instructor Dan Turner reports.

ESL teacher Henry Leon said, “We have more time to work on projects at home and get the garden ready for planting.”

Hancock instructors are not immune to the ravages of the coronavirus. Few have become ill themselves, but they have family members who have caught COVID-19, and sadly, some have lost loved ones.

“I don’t know how to grieve the loss,” said an instructor whose sister passed from the coronavirus. Another reports the death of a brother-in-law living overseas.

The fear COVID-19 engenders is also having an impact.

“The feeling of danger in the air” troubles one instructor.

“My critical thinking has been altered to look at how this has impacted our country” said business instructor Earl Murray.

While there is near-unanimity about preferring the traditional classroom, many teachers report they are learning to live with using either Zoom or Cranium Café.

“To be quite honest,” said history teacher John Ashbaugh, “I’m grateful for the work and I enjoy my teaching more than ever.”

“I am adapting well,” said Earl Murray. “I use the same student-centered teaching style.”

“I will be more creative as I plan to teach online,” said Maria Mandziara.

Henry Leon thinks it important to acknowledge the help teachers have received from Hancock’s support staff:

“My department has gone all out in trying to help everyone overcome our fears and lack of knowledge with online teaching. We owe a big thank you to them.”

Hancock’s classes will remain online through the rest of the spring semester and through the summer session.

“I think we may see people going forward with staying online after the pandemic is over,” said Dan Turner. Since the coronavirus is so unpredictable, and there are fears of a second wave coming in the fall, online teaching skills and other ways of adapting to this challenging situation may be of use in the very near future.

Mark James Miller is an associate English instructor at Allan Hancock College and president of the Part-Time Faculty Association.  He can be reached at mark@pfaofahc.com

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