How Graduate School Prepared Me For Teaching During A Pandemic

As a school librarian, I’ve been tasked with helping to support much of our staff as we transition to remote learning. For those of us in the profession, it’s not a surprise since much of our job is supporting staff in addition to the work we do with students in the library. What is a surprise to me, however, is how much my graduate school experience as a student has suddenly come in to play.

I graduated in 2010 from Syracuse University with an MSLIS degree. A student at the iSchool, my degree was entirely online with the exception of a two week “boot camp” at the start of the program. I, along with my classmates, were some of the first in a new wave of distance (or remote) learning. It was often hard to explain what it was like to people who hadn’t experienced it because there were a lot of misconceptions about online learning. This experience, however, has made us uniquely prepared and qualified to help in ways I could not have anticipated.

Most of us are not used to web conferences as a means of daily interaction. While some professional development experiences use this technology, our regular jobs are live and in person. We juggle a delicate balance of performing for a not-always-captive audience, managing the emotions of the room so that the class can be productive, and finding ways to reach all of our students regardless of their interest in our subject, as well as the general safety and well-being of the students in our charge.

Our days thrive on human interaction and we are rarely alone from the moment we arrive until the moment we leave.

Teachers’ and students’ days are structured to the literal minute. I know, for example, that I am able to use the restroom at 9:17 am on Tuesdays, if necessary, because I do not have a regularly scheduled class at that time. We are not only used to structure and routine, but our careers thrive on it.

This is part of what makes remote learning so unsettling for many of us. All of the structure and routine and the ability to control the environment our students are learning in have been taken away from us and we feel lost. The problem with feeling lost as a teacher is that you still have the responsibility of leading your students; we do not like feeling like we are steering our students in the wrong direction or that we are learning at the same time as our students. We are accustomed to being knowledgeable about what we share with them. We’re rising to the occasion and making things work, but this is incredibly stressful.

Over the last two week as I’ve been helping to support teachers and listening to their fears about how things will run, I also realized that I can envision what it is like for our students right now, to have to adapt to digital learning. I can anticipate some of the frustrations and anxieties many will be having. I can remember feeling much more responsible for my own education than in a traditional classroom setting and how it was simultaneously freeing and overwhelming. What’s better: having experienced this as a student has given me the ability to help quell some colleagues’ fears, which, in a time of such uncertainty, is huge.

In 2009 when I first started my graduate program, people often asked me if I felt that learning at a distance was putting me at a disadvantage. Who knew then that it was the best preparation I could have had?

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