pandemic diaries (teacher edition)

(Professor’s edition)

Step into our professor´s view on the ongoing pandemic. slide down

The dark (k)nights of the pandemic:

Dr. Tonelli’s pandemic diary

I don’t have time to write this. But I’m writing this anyway (so I do have time to write this? I don’t know. These things are confusing). I’ve done a lot more in the past year that I don’t have time to do than ever before. Is that what this is supposed to be about? I don’t know, but I don’t have time to worry about that (or do I?).

Teaching during the pandemic has been very much about experiencing time in new ways. I’m a music scholar, so thinking about temporalities is something I do often. I’m often thinking about the ways speeds and slowness from music get into my body, into the rhythms of my days. The pandemic has brought new slownesses into my life, and I’ve appreciated those (and I’ve paired them with music that has slowed them even further), but I’ve also spent most of the last year wishing for more of those slownesses. They’ve been palpable but few. Teaching during the pandemic has mostly brought increased demands on my time. More to do. Much more. So much more that I’ve learned new things about my limits, and new things about how I jeopardize my ability to serve others when I listen only to their needs and not to those of my own body, mind, and spirit.

Growing up with Batman, Jesus Christ, Hulk Hogan, and Rambo I learned to love playing the saviour. I romanticize pushing myself to the limits, rising to a challenge, being tireless, channeling superhuman streams of energy, being in the groove, catching and surfing the wave. These kinds of heroes know no limits. These kinds of heroes don’t break down. These kinds of heroes write pandemic diaries for the IK Association Publishing Committee when they’re asked even though they think they don’t have time and they know that it will add another another small crack in the windshield of the Batmobile, and that those kinds of repairs don’t come cheap (Have you ever tried to get your Batmobile repaired? If not, trust me, it sucks).

This year I’m trying to say no to more IK Associations than I did last year when the lockdown started (not the real one though, it appears). I’m trying to suffer less cracks in the glass. I’m trying to listen more to what I need to be healthy so I can serve my students well. I’m more aware of what happens when the glass shatters and what I need to do to keep it from shattering.

It’s crunch time now. I’m making some of the same mistakes. But less mistakes. Pandemic, round 2. 

Will there be a round 3? If not, will I need again to adjust to different speeds and slownesses? Of course. Life is constant change and you’re an improviser getting better at knowing how to improvise well, getting better at knowing you can choose differently, you can learn to hear things you’ve been ignoring. You’re a Batman with a tube of epoxy, sealing up a very expensive windshield.

Dr. Steven Willemsen. (University Lecturer)

It’s a question that keeps coming back: ‘So what’s it like, teaching in a lockdown?’

I still haven’t quite figured it out. Online teaching might be easier on the nerves compared to a lecture hall with 120 eyes directed at you, but it also has its own strange intensity.

For one, the job of a teacher has moved closer to that of a screen actor. There is no one directly in front of you, yet you want to make this communication as humanly meaningful as possible. One strategy is not unlike Stanislavkian ‘method acting’: you go and tap into your inner reservoir, remembering what it was that once made you excited about a topic in the first place. Then at home, in front of a camera, you dig up that enthusiasm and display it, hoping it will resonate. It takes energy, and a small leap of faith, to actively remind yourself there is a real audience out there. Everyone who has ever given an online presentation will know the haunting feeling that creeps up on you when you realize there is a possibility your connection has already dropped out, and you have been sitting there, talking and wildly gesturing, conveying your ideas to absolutely no one.

But my most dystopian expectations about online teaching were disproven. Every week, the muted dark-grey of the videoconferencing platform gave way to a feeling of real contact and exchange. It is riveting to see and hear students engage and share ideas, and a good class will still produce a very real shot of adrenalin and dopamine. It makes for a strange comedown when the session is over. You close your laptop and are transported back to a quiet living room – hyped up, with nowhere to take that energy. 

Recently, I have started to intensely romanticize the lecture breaks: the once rather banal moments during which we’d go out for fresh air, stand in line for mediocre coffee. The breaks, I now realize, were never really about having a break; they were opportunities to get to know you, students. To learn about the exhibitions you organized, the bands you’re in, or about the amazing diversity of people and backgrounds converging in a class. It is probably what I miss most, and it’s been replaced with ten vacant minutes around the house, with which I am never quite sure what to do. 

Most of all, I feel it is important to keep recognizing the daily effort of students. This has been a year of lessons in scale and agency for all of us: how tiny, seemingly insignificant actions amount to complex, large-scale effects. As a student, you face the task of remaining concentrated, motivated, and attentive while sitting alone at home, with zero external pressure, and logged in on the most distraction-rich device in your house. It’s hard, unsexy, day-by-day work, but it is also the only thing that will make a class come to life. And you pull it off—week by week. The dedication I have seen is truly impressive, and I am certain that it, too, will amount to something significant, complex, large-scale, and impactful.

Prof. dr. B.P. (Barend) van Heusden

21 April 2021

It has been a bit more than one year since the pandemic started. During this period, and especially so while we were in strict lockdown and had to work and teach from home, I have been wondering about what ‘makes’ a university. 

In our course on Empirical Methods (Ba 2), we teach students about social systems as ‘systems of communication’ – these systems, or institutions, exist in and through language. A university is such a social system. There are, of course, buildings and people – but these become a university only because of the discourse – the documents – that provides them with a shared meaning. 

On the basis of my experiences over the past year, I would nuance this a bit today. A university is a social system, certainly, but not only because it is a system of discourse. There is another social dimension to it, being the working– creating something – together. If no work is attached to it, the discourse sounds hollow. It does provide the framework, but without the work, it lacks content and purpose. We did not stop, during the past year, working and studying at a university, yet at the same time, we weren’t, or only partially so. 

(The same, by the way, is true for the arts world, which suffers from the absence of ‘the real work’ even more than we do.)

In our teaching, whether in hybrid form or fully online, we, of course, tried to create an environment where students would feel that they were being involved in such a cooperative and creative process – mainly by stimulating interaction, conversations, debate, thinking aloud. This isn’t easy, however: creatively working together on something requires physical interaction – standing, sitting, walking around together, being there

Which is why I am looking forward to that moment – after the summer – when I will be able to leave my working desk at home, biking back to the real work, and world, with students and colleagues.

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