What it’s like to… Teach during the pandemic
Written by Glenn Geher, Professor of Psychology and Founding Director of Evolutionary Studies at SUNY New Paltz

On March 16 of 2020, I woke up with a fever. I didn’t feel right. I would later learn that I was afflicted with COVID-19, which kept me in bed for two weeks and wondering on a daily basis if I’d even live to see the next day. I’m grateful to have made a full recovery, but the pandemic has made a lasting impact in other ways.

Like millions of university faculty members across the globe, I was suddenly thrust into a position of having to adjust my classes to face the new reality—a reality marked by an all-out campus shutdown coupled with rapidly changing scheduling and academic policies. 

When it comes to modifying one’s courses on a dime in light of unexpected and borderline-disastrous conditions, I quickly realized a few things. First, I was not going to compromise my core values as a teacher for one second. No matter how I modified my classes, I was going to make sure that the students were getting the same education that I was planning to deliver from the outset. Students (and others) are paying lots of money in tuition and taxes to support my work and I was not going to let them receive a compromised education. 

Also, I realized that the best way to deliver classes under such unprecedented conditions was really going to depend on a broad array of factors and needed to take the context of the different classes into account. Each class requires its own approach to optimize it under these kinds of emergent conditions. 

I also had to entirely rethink my process for giving exams. I decided to administer recorded oral exams via Zoom. I developed clear rubrics for grading, and I used the time spent meeting with students individually also to check in with them regarding their health and their families. This system helped me stay closely connected to all my students during what was clearly a difficult time for us all. 

glenn with students

"Teaching during the pandemic has been quite a lesson in resourcefulness, flexibility, and compassion."

Glenn Geher

Founding Director of Evolutionary Studies at SUNY New Paltz; Professor of Psychology

At some point, I was tested and found to have antibodies to the virus. While we still don’t know exactly how effective the antibodies are, or how long they remain in one’s system, I was at least somewhat reassured.

I decided to teach in person in both fall 2020 and spring 2021. And fortunately, I have recently been fully vaccinated.

It is tough to teach students who are all wearing masks and spread out in huge classrooms. And there are all kinds of situations that need to be addressed, such as when a student cannot attend class due to having the virus or otherwise being quarantined. 

Teaching during the pandemic has been quite a lesson in resourcefulness, flexibility, and compassion. As we move forward through this event as a global community, we’ve all got to do our part. For my part, I have worked to maintain my core teaching values while making modifications along the way. 

Like all eight billion of us, I think I’ll be relieved when things get back to normal, whatever that new normal turns out to be.

Glenn Geher thumbnail

Glenn is also a member of Questionable Authorities, SUNY New Paltz’s favorite all-faculty rock band. Although the band typically hosts an annual show in honor of students earning their degrees,  stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19 in early 2020 prompted band members to modify their usual celebration. The group instead created a music video in honor of the 2020 graduates, performing a cover of Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself,” and including well wishes for future graduates as well as solo dance montages.

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