March 18, 2020: “I feel less like a teacher every day.”

By Summer Cherland

It’s amazing how quickly my life changed in one week. Last Wednesday was March 11, 2020. Ahead of me I had a jam-packed month of conferences, events, and major work for my students to do. As the faculty-founder of an emerging Oral History Project, I had been running at double speed for about 2 years. Each semester, I would coordinate with up to 20 people willing to be interviewed by my students. I would train dozens of students to conduct interviews. I would help them to analyze and contextualize an individual’s story within a greater historical narrative. It was fast-paced work and I absolutely loved it. Oral History gives you the rare opportunity to practice history while also building a network of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.

In our case, it also gave us the chance to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of our college’s founding. For nearly a year, our team has been developing a full length documentary on the contentious story of how South Mountain Community College came to be in the late 1970s. Our documentary, which was slated to premiere on March 27th, 2020, was a tribute to the founding faculty and staff, but also a declaration of our campus’ historical significance. Over my spring break, I had to finalize the event planning for the premiere, contribute video copy to our documentary director, and revise the ending. I was also gearing up for a major national conference out of state, and a smaller regional one at my alma mater, UNLV. I was bracing myself for a three week sprint. Overnight, the sprint stopped mid-stride.

My husband and I are both teachers. He works at an elementary school, and I’m at a community college. My sister is a teacher. My parents are retired teachers. Most of our friends are in education. Over the course of the last 7 days, every one of us has been on edge, wondering… What is going to happen next? Will they just pause the school year and start up in the fall again? Will we move to fully online classes? Will we ever see our students again?

Our campus is in a mad dash to migrate most coursework online. Faculty are, in some cases, learning to navigate online teaching for the very first time. Some of them have never taught or learned online in any capacity. Others are very proficient.

What I’m finding is that everyone really is doing their best. I feel lucky that my school is continuing online operations. In my husband’s case, schools are simply closed. What do we do now?

Cody said something to me this morning that broke my heart. He said, “I feel less like a teacher every day.”

5th grade teacher Cody Cherland describes being away from his students.

We need to continue to feel like teachers. We are experts in content and the process of learning. In the age of information, social isolation will not stop quality education. That’s what we’re here to do. It honestly kills me to know that I may miss out on seeing people I love – colleagues, friends, family members, and students – in order to protect them from an unseen risk. But we can continue to collaborate and innovate. Necessity, as they say, is the Mother of Invention. Get ready for a Mother of a ride!

Here’s my plan: I’m going to work my booty off the only way I know how. I’m going to check in with you regularly. I’m going to ask you what’s going well and what has been difficult. I’m going to rely on you to tell me about a technological tool you’ve just mastered. I’m going to help you whenever I can. Ever the historian, I am also going to record, collect, and analyze our experiences. With a team of students, I’ll journal every working day about what you’re teaching me. Reach out. Let me know how it’s going.

We’re going to feel more and more like teachers every day.

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