A reminder to breathe from Ellen Samuels

(social media post quoted with permission)


I have decades of experience as a sick and disabled instructor, being my own personal medical emergency, needing to flexibly and rapidly adapt my teaching according to my own changing abilities as well as those of my students. I’m not saying I’ve always done this gracefully or perfectly. Just the opposite: all I have to offer is imperfection.

Instead of agonizing how to make equivalent discussions, equivalent assignments, what if you let yourselves embrace the ways this new online classroom will be inevitably imperfect, inescapably broken, inherently not-normal? Instead of this being a point of failure, can it be a site of freedom and creativity, not just for you but for your students?

… This is what I’ve learned from up-against-the-wall-teaching, I-can’t-get-out-of-bed teaching, the-world-isn’t-made-for-me teaching. Sometimes you just have to let go of how you think it should be and do what is possible, what keeps the learning going, in any direction, from any source.

If I were teaching any of my various levels of humanities and critical theory classes right now, I’d turn the rest of the semester into just a series of ungraded credit-only online discussion forums on the readings/films/lessons, followed by a final paper or creative project, their choice, and never look back.

I’d say, forget all the grading and the rubrics. This situation is impossibly stressful on everyone, you and your students. Make it easy. Make space for them to use the critical tools of your class to analyze the Coronavirus from a million angles. Make space for them to be confused, afraid, angry—then direct that emotion usefully, as Audre Lorde would say, into intellectual and political critique, back to the topic and concerns of your class.

I mean, you all know this already. You all are brilliant, dedicated teachers and scholars. All I’m really trying to say is, it’s ok to just do what seems easiest and most open right now. Students will learn more from you doing that, from modeling that flexibility and freedom, than from the most meticulously curated powerpoints.

This is crip learning and it never happens the way we planned. But what I’m trying to say is, that’s not just OK. It’s good. It’s ours. We’re in this together.”