Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed: What It’s Like to Start Your First Faculty Job in a Pandemic, by Lauren N. Henley (Richmond):
My first semester as a tenure-track professor started on August 19, 2020, in the middle of a pandemic, with no precedent and no playbook.
I’ve never designed and led a course on my campus that didn’t involve masked faces or checker-patterned Zoom screens. I’ve never not had to teach remote and in-person students simultaneously. I have had to recite our “six feet, mask up” mantra while figuring out why my Zoom students can’t hear, my cursor has disappeared, and my in-person students can’t see the PowerPoint slides — as all of us are overwhelmed by the absurdity of it all.
I’m part of a faculty group — the post-pandemic generation — that for the next few years will define the future of instruction in higher education. For us, the past year or so was daunting, but it was also liberating. Because with no expectations of normalcy, many of us in this new faculty cohort have been approaching our strange new academic world with a sense of possibility more than of trepidation.
If anything, the past year has been freeing for a lot of us. Some faculty members, of course, dug in their heels. They anticipated that, thanks to the pandemic, 2020-21 would be a “lost year,” a year that couldn’t possibly measure up to our institution’s standards. But many of us who were new to academe enjoyed the relative weightlessness of the unknown. Unlike our veteran colleagues, we didn’t know what we’d “lost,” because we had nothing to compare our new jobs to.
The unprecedented times allowed us to try new things without as much fear of negative repercussions. And our experiences may be instructive. Here are a few ways that the experiences of rookie faculty members hired amid Covid can inform the future of teaching. ...
With the fall semester just underway on most campuses, it’s still hard to tell whether any semblance of what was once “normal” will return to college classrooms. But even if it does, those of us who began our teaching careers in the pandemic will always think of this strange time — hybrid teaching, social distancing, and all — as its own form of normal.
Maybe that’s a good thing. In the months to come, the real test for faculty members around the country will be whether we can take the lessons learned from the past 18 months and put them to use in ways that help more students succeed on the increasingly complicated journey through higher education and beyond.