This week:

  • I share one professor’s pandemic-teaching lessons.
  • I ask what instructors teaching first-year students are noticing about their “midterm moment.”
  • I share one professor’s idea for encouraging students to mask correctly in class.

‘We Have Changed’

These days, Clarissa Sorensen-Unruh spends lots of time reading journals on pedagogy as she works on her dissertation. Many of them, she’s noticed, have put out a call for papers on what professors learned about teaching through the pandemic. But Sorensen-Unruh, a full-time faculty member in the chemistry department at Central New Mexico Community College, sees a disconnect. Most faculty members won’t read those articles. Those who teach at community colleges like hers probably won’t be able to pay for access to them.

With that in mind, Sorensen-Unruh took to Twitter to share what she has learned, and to try to start a more inclusive conversation.

In her thread, Sorensen-Unruh says instructors can’t return to a pre-pandemic normal. That’s not a bad thing, in her view. “For the most part,” she writes, “‘normal’ F2F teaching pre-pandemic was elitist, ableist, & treated students as automatons.” The pandemic, she continues, humanized teaching.

At the same time, she says, the emergency mode of instruction professors have been in cannot continue forever.

Everyone is exhausted, Sorensen-Unruh continues. And “we have changed,” professors and students alike. “We need to bring our new selves into our teaching spaces,” she writes.

What does that look like? For Sorensen-Unruh, it means getting rid of the idea of rigor and meeting students where they are. That means professors will have to change the way they traditionally operate. “My vote for the 1st to go?” she writes. “Hard deadlines.”

In an interview, Sorensen-Unruh emphasized that “I certainly don’t have all the answers.” Her hope is that professors can be in conversation about how to help students academically while being responsive to the larger struggles many of them are experiencing — and not only because of the pandemic.

Among the ways Sorensen-Unruh has changed, she says: She feels a deepened responsibility to speak out about what she thinks truly matters in teaching.

Do you think you’ve brought a “new self” into the classroom this year? Have your students? If so, how has that affected your classroom interactions? Share your thoughts with me at and they may appear in a future newsletter.

The First Significant Grades

As I reported a story this summer about how this year’s sophomores are, in many ways, effectively freshmen, I also asked what colleges expected their actual freshmen to be like. In short, no one really knew. I’ve been following a couple of professors teaching an introductory course for a story that will offer an early look at how freshmen are adjusting; keep an eye out for it soon.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about midterms. A few years back I went to Denison University for a story about its push to provide students with mentors. Among its efforts was offering first-year students “advising circles” with a professor and a near-peer mentor. I sat in on an advising circle at a key point in the semester: when students were getting their first significant college grades. This, I heard, was a critical moment for students in sorting out their college plans, and even their sense of themselves.

So I’m wondering. For those of you teaching or advising first-year students, what does that midterm moment look like this year? Are you doing anything differently to help students make sense of where they stand? Are you hearing anything different from your students? Let me know at and your response might be included in a future newsletter.

Masks in Class

I recently heard from Neri de Kramer, a temporary assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Delaware, who shared a creative idea for encouraging students to wear their masks correctly in class. (She emphasized that it’s something she’s trying out, not something she has evidence is successful.)

“I did a small lesson on what I called the semiotics of masks,” wrote de Kramer, who teaches in Delaware’s associate in arts program. She drew three masked faces on the board — “one was a drawing of a fancy mask with a brand logo on it, properly positioned over nose and mouth, one of a disposable mask properly positioned, and one of a mask sitting underneath the nose” — then asked students “to be brave and say out loud what cultural or social message the wearer of each respective mask was trying to send us.”

This led to a discussion, she wrote, that touched on “brands, logos and status, but also masculinity and how a mask can signal weakness or fear, and of course the politicization of the pandemic.” De Kramer is curious to see if it’ll have an impact on students’ correct mask usage going forward.

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— Beckie

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