The added stress of the pandemic has made life harder for teachers, too.
It’s a Tuesday morning at 8:30am. Three years ago you’d be on the train, heading for the city towards your impending 9am lecture in the Boyd Orr building with a Starbucks latte in hand. Now, you are in bed – still pyjama-clad – with a comparatively dull and bitter mug of Nescafe cooling on your bedside table. You open your laptop and when the time comes, you click on that lovely little Zoom link. A single face fills your screen, alongside countless black rectangles with names attached. Here goes another 60 minutes of scrolling through Twitter on a separate tab while your lecturer talks away.
Okay, maybe you’re a bit better than this. Maybe you’re at your desk. Maybe you manage to pay attention the whole time. Perhaps you even turn your camera on. But, by and large, Zoom lectures are attended by a bunch of black rectangles. The professor will ask whether you can hear them, and after ten seconds of awkward silence, someone will be brave enough to mumble “yes” into their mic. So, if this is what learning looks like in the age of pandemic learning, why should lecturers and teaching staff be expected to put in the same amount of joy and effort as before?
After all, they are living through the same world that we are. The same declining mental health, the same worry about Covid-19 numbers, the same day-to-day anxiety. A lot of the time, they’ve gone from commanding the attention span of a nosebleed lecture theatre to commanding that of 20 faceless squares. I understand that teaching is their job, and in many cases they make decent money off of it, but I also believe anyone in any profession should be given compassion in circumstances such as those of the last few years. What if the lecturer has kids and has had to work from home whilst also looking after children? What if they’ve lost loved ones? What if they suffer from long covid? Then there’s the Graduate Teaching Assistants. For how vital they are to the education of students at the University, they get paid a pittance and have fairly poor working conditions. So, again: why should they be performing at the same level they did pre-pandemic?
“A lot of the time, they’ve gone from commanding the attention span of a nosebleed lecture theatre to commanding that of 20 faceless squares.”
I feel strongly about this especially in regards to marking. For many of my classes, I’ve been relying on extensions to get through the past few years. Some classes have even granted automatic extensions to all students. With higher rates of us getting extensions, I think it’s only fair that teachers get some extra time, too. Maybe they don’t have to jump through the same hoops as students in order to get that grace, but I think the problem here lies with the extension process for students, not with the lecturers getting extra time.
Students have been complaining about lecturers reusing lecture material, especially for pre-recorded classes. I struggle to see the problem with that, as long as none of the information has since changed, I think that is a fine area for lecturers to save time with. In normal times, I’m certain that lecturers would reuse content, too – they’d update last year’s slides slightly and present them to a new generation of Politics 1A students. As for having pre-recorded lectures instead of live ones, I think it’s six and half a dozen. If it was between presenting your slides live to half the class, all of whom have their cameras off, versus just pre-recording them and posting them asynchronously, I can’t blame teaching staff for choosing the latter. For students, it’s certainly personal preference, but I enjoy well put together, pre-recorded slides that are coherent because I can fit the lecture into my schedule whenever I need to. I mean, I remember when everything was in person. I remember my classmates yearning for lectures to be recorded.
I understand that this is different for students paying tuition fees. As a Scot, I have a different experience – I’m not paying for my undergrad and so I feel less precious about it, as long as I’m getting through with decent grades and subject knowledge. If I was paying thousands for it, I’d likely have a different perspective. Again, though, I look at the institution and not the teaching staff. The University should be reducing tuition costs to make up for the problems caused by the pandemic to our degrees and the quality of teaching. Teachers, living through it as we are, should not be blamed and not be expected to keep working as normal, in a machine-like way.