[Editor’s Note: This school year, many students are learning online and at home–which is uniquely challenging. In this #schoolathome series, we are asking: What difference does Jesus make in our new normal? How can we live out this season well? To not just survive, but thrive? We hope you discover some helpful and practical tips along the way.]

Written by Sharon Klassen. Sharon is an Associate Professor of Theatre Arts at Redeemer University. For more than 15 years, she has been teaching, mentoring, and working alongside students both in the classroom and while creating theatre.

Yesterday after class, I received a backhanded compliment from a student.

I had been struggling to juggle all the additional technology that has become part of my life in an online classroom. Things like remembering to interact with the wee faces in the boxes at the bottom of a screen. Worrying about camera angles and whether students will still be able to see me if I write on the board. Or changing my lesson plan when the video I wanted to show has no sound over Zoom. And all this is on top of what I normally do to meet the learning outcomes for a course.

The student told me that, amongst the less technically-inclined professors at our institution, I was doing the best at adapting to our new classroom reality.

It helped.

Instead of making fun of my mistakes, or shouting at me when I write on the board where they can’t see, or sending me angry emails because they aren’t sure what to do for tomorrow’s class, my students this term have been wonderfully encouraging. We’ve shifted online, not seamlessly, but reasonably well. We’re all in this together, and they have joined me in the adventure of “Pandemic University.”

Teaching and learning in these strange days is stressful and unsettling for us all. I appreciate the moments when students let me know they are feeling isolated by being far from home, or frustrated by the distance they have to keep from peers. I am willing to listen and encourage, but I also know that sometimes I need to send them to someone more qualified. Both I and my students need to remember that a Ph.D. in Drama does not make me a counsellor. I am, however, able to pray with and for them, and I do.

For me, being a university professor is a vocation, one to which I feel God has called me.

I want my students to not only succeed as students, but also to develop as people. I am grateful for the opportunity to see them grow from teens to young adults. Don’t ever feel embarrassed to speak to a professor because of the way you behaved in a first-year course. We’re thrilled to see how you’ve matured.

For me, being a university professor is a vocation, one to which I feel God has called me. I want my students to not only succeed as students, but also to develop as people.

Of course, I do remember the rough moments in my teaching career—the student who argued with me about absolutely everything, the classes that never seemed to come together, the students who never handed much in—but I have learned to focus more on the moments of gratitude and encouragement.

Just as students do, we professors appreciate positive reinforcement, whether it’s nodding your head to confirm you’re listening, telling me you enjoyed the class on our way out, or emailing a thank-you note for a class, a course, or some extra help. These moments sustain me during the harder times, when students are tired and surly, and no one seems prepared for class.

If your professor does something to encourage you to become a better student or even a better person, thank them. In my drawer I keep a file of “Notes From Students” which continues to bless me. If you realize long after graduation that you were blessed by something a professor did or said, please send an email or note.

If learning is going to be more than just a transfer of information from a Powerpoint or the professor’s mouth to your brain, we’ll need to work towards a shared understanding of each others’ humanity. And that will take a willingness from both professors and students to love mercy and walk humbly with their God—and each other.

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