Teaching in Troubled Times

25 March 2021
By Victoria Morse, Director of the LTC

As you prepare for spring term, whether your focus is on courses, advising, or student support work, it feels important to think ahead to the ongoing trial of Derek Chauvin and to the anniversary of the killing of George Floyd (May 25). Late May is always a busy time in the Carleton year: this year, we will need to be sensitive to the strong emotions that these important public events will have on our students and ourselves. 

There is no one way to plan for the anxiety and reactions that these events may produce, but thinking ahead of time about the range of options you might consider should help to make the end of term a little easier.  The college will be sending out information about resources and support for students. The Center for Community and Engagement has been collecting resources for helping students to understand the trial and its context. The Anti-racism Training website offers tips for supporting BIPOC colleagues and students during the trial.  

Here on campus, an extra investment in inclusivity and community building will help to support students. As always, learn your students’ names and work on the pronunciation using the Campus Directory or the Hub for class rosters (which give Carleton names and pronouns as well as pronunciations). Encourage the students to get to know each other by name and give them time to interact with one another. 

Consider building in a little extra clarity and explanation into your work: can you decode specialized vocabulary or explain how to do things even more explicitly than usual? A visual syllabus can help students understand the outline of a course and see how the pieces fit together. Can you add some extra flexibility around deadlines and attendance? Tokens are one approach.

Thinking ahead about potentially challenging conversations in the classroom or other teaching spaces can help a lot in being ready to respond calmly and constructively.  Georgetown University’s Teaching Commons offers some grounded advice as does the University of Oregon’s “Teaching in Turbulent Times.”

Students’ mental health has suffered over this past year. Any attention you can pay to helping students achieve a higher degree of well-being and good self-care will help them be ready and able to learn. LTC student fellow Emma Shedd (Biology, ’21) contributed a blog post on trauma-informed pedagogy that you may find helpful in thinking about the relationship between trauma and learning. Janet Lewis Muth has shared materials from the flourishing initiatives at Simon Fraser University and the University of Texas, Austin that contain fairly straightforward tips.  

For anyone working with students in distress, the Office of Health Promotion website offers many excellent resources including the Supporting Student Mental Health. The upcoming ACM workshops on Mental Health and Wellbeing Mid- and Post-Pandemic are another great resource.

Many of the ideas above are not new, but are staples of resilient pedagogy as well as anti-racist pedagogy.  A good new set of resources is Georgetown University’s Inclusive Pedagogy Toolkit which strikes me as a thoughtful guide to the issues that manages to not be too overwhelming.

Please feel free to reach out to Victoria Morse and/or Wiebke Kuhn for deeper conversations focused on teaching and supporting students in our troubled times.