An inside look at teaching

From the beginning of the pandemic, I have felt that teachers and students, and seniors (the elderly, in addition to those students about to graduate) have had a particularly rough go. So many people have been affected, for such an extended time, that it will be quite a while before we settle into a new equilibrium. The fire that has devastated our collective forest will sprout new growth, but we can’t know exactly how that will play out.

Having a daughter who teaches Spanish to all levels of high school and having psychotherapy clients who are involved with school at various levels, I have had a window into the challenges and multitude of ways that schools have responded to the ever changing landscape

I had not experienced it myself until an unexpected opportunity presented itself in the form of facilitating an online course for Boston University’s School of Social Work: my alma mater. My dear friend and colleague since we attended BU in the 80’s offered up this gift. “The curriculum is set,” he explained. There are readings and lectures for them to listen to. There’s a faculty meeting once a week and live class is 8:30-9:45 pm once a week for five weeks (read beyond when I am usually coherent).

I can do anything for five weeks, I thought. I certainly enjoy working with a group and the perspective a group lends. It is both a unique way to validate some findings while also highlighting that there are times when people hold very different points of view- all of them valid.

What I could not have anticipated was the steep curve to learn Blackboard, the platform BU uses to stash articles, submit and grade papers and communicate, Zoom meetings (I have been using doxy for two years), along with doing all the reading, listening to all the lectures, and preparing for class. This particular course requires seven papers over the five weeks, so the load as a first time instructor was particularly daunting.

The students- adults who were choosing this sometimes after other careers, sometimes while working other jobs, raising children, (sometimes by themselves) were an inspiration. They are moving forward, training to help other people. I was thrilled to be a small part of their learning about the practice and the theories that help inform a therapist’s work with clients. The more familiar we are with options to make a shift in how they feel, think, or behave, or understand their situation and choices, the better position we’re in to help them.

Grading presented a particular conundrum. A rubric was in place which helped a great deal with the longer papers. Then we have the question of people whose first language may not be English, so their writing isn’t as practiced, and people who just aren’t as strong linguistically, but who I can imagine being empathic, and helpful with the person in front of them.

I’m grateful for the unique window that I was afforded and know that I am lucky that students were required to be on camera, so although they may be inhabiting their tiny Hollywood Squares, they are still visible, with facial expressions, and voices and contributions to the class.

It was exciting, scary, challenging, satisfying, informative and expansive, often within that same hour and a quarter in the evening. Will I do it again? Perhaps, now that I have a clearer sense of the arc of the course, its demands, and I’m familiar with the mechanics. I can focus on improving student experience, as they learn how to create compassionate containers for their clients, and help them to see the possibilities that underlie any crisis. I can only hope that teachers across all fields are afforded the time they need to rejuvenate, and come back fresh to give to their students, whether online or in person.

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About Meg

Meg is a licensed independent clinical social worker with over thirty-five years clinical experience. She holds a Master’s Degree from the Boston University School of Social Work and a Bachelor of Arts from the State University of New York at Binghamton.