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Little Spouse On The Prairie: Pandemic 101

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I remember a time early in my teaching career – this would have been in the early 1990s – when a particularly virulent strain of flu shut down our local schools for over a week.

I remember a time early in my teaching career – this would have been in the early 1990s – when a particularly virulent strain of flu shut down our local schools for over a week. I have fond recollections of that bonus time. Since I hadn’t gotten sick, I caught up on projects, cooked special meals, and wrote letters to my grandparents and friends. Back then, I didn’t have children.

In my insulated world, I gave little thought to parents who had to work and who were scrambling for daycare, using precious vacation days, and dealing with illness. I lost touch with the reason we had to call off school: A great number of people were seriously ill, and our community needed to stop the spread by limiting contact. When we returned to school, students and teachers alike felt rejuvenated, grateful, and ready to tackle the rest of the school year.

During the first week of the COVID-19 pandemic shut-down, I assumed this would be a similar experience. I tried to frame the disruption as a grand adventure. Who wouldn’t want to try some new learning technology? I work best under pressure. I had been meaning to experiment with the learning strategies at which all of my teaching colleagues seemed completely at ease. Hitting the pause button on my busy teaching life might be just the rejuvenating opportunity I had been waiting for. Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to teach in pajamas? My kids and I could use the days to reconnect, get out into nature, and try new recipes.

I learned quickly that this experience would be vastly different than the short pause of so many years ago. Among the many difference was the transition to online education, both for me and my children. Back in the early 1990s, online classes were rare, few people had computers, and no one that I knew had a cellular phone. Whereas back in the 1990s, our pause from school really was a break, this time, I was being called upon to figure out how to be an effective teacher online. I simply love teaching in person. I enjoy the sound of my own voice, I guess, but I also love to structure interesting group activities, play creative learning games, and answer questions in person.

The small college where I work encouraged us to be supportive of our students, to be, not lenient, but understanding. After all, this was a new experience for everyone, and issues of access were a major concern. I am ashamed to admit that I assumed that all of my young adult students would have a computer and access to the internet once they moved off campus. While the majority did have access, a few did not.

When I announced that our classes would have an optional online meeting to go over an assignment, I predicted my students would fill my screen. I assumed I would have to reign over chaos as excited voices interrupted one another. My disappointment was palpable when I logged on and, out of 88 students in one course and 30 in another, I had only one young person check in to the live meeting. I was gratified when I was able to have a nice long chat with that one person, but why didn’t anyone else want to visit with me? What a lot of interesting and important things I had to say!

As the weeks turned into months, realizations dawned. This thing was stressing people out in unique ways. Some of the students had nowhere to go. Their homes were the dorms, which they had had 48 hours to get out of. Some of the students had a place to go, but it wasn’t a place to which they cared to return. Several were from other countries, and those countries did not allow people to fly in once the pandemic was in full force. Those who did make it home to a stable, welcoming environment had to give up their campus jobs, break off fledgling relationships with new friends, and disrupt the flow of their lives in myriad ways.

In the coming weeks, Little Spouse on the Prairie will, I hope, have some funny stories to share from this strange, frightening, and still unfolding story. I will try to document the journey from a teaching standpoint, parenting standpoint, and relationship standpoint with my usual light-hearted flair, but also with respect for those who are experiencing the pandemic in a different way.