Ending the School Year on a Blessed Note
The 2020-21 academic year is now in the books, and I am so grateful that I finished it successfully! After the chaos COVID-19 brought last spring, which forced colleges and universities to hastily cancel in-person classes, I began this school year pandemic-prepared and, as my mother likes to say, "pre-prayered." I have a roughly two-hour commute on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from Columbus, Ohio, to the Ohio State University Lima branch campus, where I teach English composition and two pop culture classes I designed on African American sports history and television diversity. I enjoy my drive to school because it is serene and rustically picturesque, especially about 20 miles outside Lima when I pass small farms with cows, sheep and grazing horses. As I relish all this pastoral scenery, I do a lot of praying, and going back to school in the middle of the pandemic caused me to be more earnest in my morning supplications to God. I prayed for the safety of myself, my students, my colleagues and our campus that we share with Rhodes State College.
At the beginning of the 2020 fall semester, the Ohio State administration provided students, faculty and staff with scarlet drawstring backpacks full of items to keep us COVID-ready, which included a thermometer, sanitizing wipes and two black cloth masks with the trademark university block O. Desks in our classrooms were rearranged to accommodate social distancing, and our janitorial staff diligently cleaned after each class meeting. I taught hybrid English classes for the first time. I like to think of myself as pretty tech-savvy for my age, but I had some early struggles with Zoom audio and screen-sharing features when showing news videos and documentaries.
Moving into the spring, I had mastered Zoom basics, but the next challenge was teaching an online composition class with both college and high school students. Not wanting to confine them to an asynchronous experience of submitting assignments, I carved out a recurring noon class and additional office hour time to provide a semblance of an in-person course. I constantly reminded my online students that I was not bothered by having to repeat essay requirements, because we were all going to need a little more patience in the learning environment thrust on us by the pandemic. Teaching via Zoom was both stimulating and perplexing at times. Zoom fatigue did take a heavy toll on many students, and like many teachers, I often wondered if the attention spans of students were waning due to continuously speaking through a computer screen.
Fortunately, I received great evaluations at the end of the year, and the reflection responses in my pop culture courses provided me with some intriguing insight on how my students are viewing the world in which they are coming of age. Both classes heavily focus on race relations, social disparities, civil rights history and current social justice activism. All students were perceptive, and current events of racial unrest shaped their thinking on the material we covered. A white, male student who took my TV class superbly summed up a major course objective that resonated with him: a better understanding of minority group experiences in America. He shared that the family sitcoms we watched from the '70s and '80s gave him a new perspective on the civil rights history he had previously read in textbooks. He also explained that the content of these shows was an eye-opener because he has never had to deal with racial discrimination. This is the type of empathy on race that our country desperately needs right now.
As I take this summer to revise my course syllabi and prepare for a return to in-person classes this fall, I am excited to get back face-to-face communication with students. Since my courses revolve around current events, having these discussions in class provides a much better learning atmosphere. We're still not quite back to normal, so COVID-19 safety protocols will still be in place, but after surviving the previous year with God's grace, I'll continue to be pre-prayered.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at Ohio State University's Lima campus. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @JjSmojc. To find out more about Jessica Johnson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.Copyright 2021 Creators Syndicate, Inc.