The idea of recognizing individual instructors for going “above and beyond” with their teaching efforts during the pandemic has been floated by some at the university where I work. My opinion? No. Unequivocally, no. I’ll tell you why, and then, I’ll propose an alternative.
In my role as an educational developer, I engage in conversations with instructors about teaching. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve listened to instructors recount a wide range of experiences. For example, instructors have told me tales of doing prep, such as recording videos, and teaching on Zoom from a closet or a car because there was no appropriate space—not private, not quiet—in their home. One course lecturer told me they had neither space at home to work nor office space at the university. Some instructors have experienced the frustration of unreliable or sporadically available internet service, which has resulted in lost time during teaching preparation. Instructors with housemates working from home or children learning from home have had to contend with internet sharing. I have listened to instructors fret about having to unexpectedly tend to young children in the middle of teaching a class. And I have also listened to instructors sigh over the anxiety that their children might unexpectedly need to stay home due to a COVID-19 outbreak at school.
And then, there are instructors who live in contrasting circumstances. While their stories are less explicit, their teaching circumstances often filter through our conversations. They have quiet space—perhaps in the home or in an office on campus; reliable internet service; and childcare arrangements, or perhaps no dependents.
I’m not saying the pandemic has been easier for some to bear than others, for we have all experienced challenges. I am saying, however, that circumstances may inform the extent to which instructors are able to focus on their teaching responsibilities.
All instructors have had to make efforts to adapt their teaching activities during the pandemic, and every instructor with whom I have spoken has been doing their utmost to support their students. Instead of recognizing the efforts of a select few, could we consider recognizing many? Let’s imagine an alternative, inclusive form of recognition: Students and instructors are invited to nominate instructors whom they deem to have used a helpful instructional strategy—be it simple or complex. The nomination is a brief description of the strategy, which is then posted to a university, faculty, or department web page where all nominees’ strategies are profiled. Public sharing of teaching strategies deemed helpful by peers and students may benefit other instructors and students.
By recognizing the efforts during a pandemic of a select few, we risk diminishing—or worse, rendering invisible—the efforts of others. By recognizing the efforts of many, we have the potential to enrich teaching and learning throughout the university community.
Image credit: Vincent Le Moign