I think there is one thing we can all agree on and that is that this has been an incredibly complex year for teaching. We have all had to adjust our pedagogies to make the semester as positive and educational as possible. It has been a time where being present for the students is extremely important.
As soon as we were told to go home, we exchanged numbers and I created WhatsApp groups for my students. I had originally thought this could not be real. I’ll see you in a week. It was real and affected our students in ways that are incomprehensible. The WhatsApp group kept our sense of community alive. In my particular pedagogy, we as a class get to know each other. I rely heavily on care and connection.
During the pandemic, I managed to continue research with the CRSP research students as well as serve as a mentor to two student clubs. In general, this fits perfectly into my teaching style. I believe, as seen in my office at any given moment, that connection is the most important way to engage your students.
In this particular pedagogy, it is also important to show genuine care and concern for your students. During the pandemic, I taught mostly gateway courses, which the students need to enter into rigorous math, engineering, science, or medical degrees. These courses are foundations for all the courses that follow.
In this pandemic learning process, I learned probably as much, if not more, than my students. I learned how to do so many technical things as well as decipher what worked and what did not work. I immediately started teaching with Zoom as Blackboard Collaborate was not working well for me. I realized that all students could not make class time because their living and daily schedules had also changed. At that moment we as professors do what we do best: adapt. I decided to record my classes so those who couldn’t attend could review them later, or so those who needed extra help at difficult hours could use them as tutorials. The first semester I didn’t really know how to share the videos, so each time my Zoom video is finished, I would send it to the students. During the summer semester, I figured you could post them via a Dropbox or Google Docs on Blackboard. It wasn’t until this fall semester that I realized you could post them directly onto Blackboard and that you could even post them in their own folder and that would be much easier for the students to navigate. The organization of Blackboard was difficult for me because I’m the type of professor that picks up from where the students and I left off. I’d like to not move too fast or too slow and work at the pace the students are comfortable with and we always manage to cover the entire course.
My classroom is one of respect and nurturing, and in this environment, the students not only blossom but they work well together. The idea of care extends to group work and helping one another achieve. There were times I had wished I had created more personal boundaries. For instance, I had students texting me at 11 on Saturday night and 8 on Sunday morning.
While there are more technical ways of describing how to teach with care, the bottom line in my classroom is building trust. Trust to try something that in a more intimidating environment wouldn’t be inviting. Math is tough and we have made it acceptable to be timid in a math class and not trust your abilities. It is the ability to take challenges and with that grow the confidence to succeed. If you can make someone who doesn’t like to read an avid reader or someone who started in developmental math a math major then your teaching style is working.
While I made lemonade with the sour lemons of this year, and we managed to achieve high retention rates, I am wholeheartedly looking to return to being in the classroom.
Lauren Wolf is an Assistant Professor in the Mathematics Department of Hostos. She received her Ph.D. in 2013 from University of Albany where she studied the non existence of eigenvalues in the essential spectrum of Toeplitz Operators. She loves teaching and embraces every aspect as she has six research students every semester. Her student research combines mathematics and social justice. She has eighteen years teaching, seven of those years she taught in medium and maximum security prisons. Professor Wolf is the advisor to two student clubs maths club and reimagining justice. The clubs do several events every semester and the student are actively involved.