Dear SUNY New Paltz Faculty,
We, the Student Association, as the voice of students, write to you the faculty during this time to share some reflections on this semester thus far. This past spring semester presented all of us with a sudden shift to remote learning, but nonetheless we persevered as a community. We are again faced with a semester full of unexpected challenges as we continue to navigate higher education during a pandemic and international uprising against racism and police brutality.
While this semester was expected to look different, we must remember that we are all adapting to a new way of learning and teaching that has tested the mental health and well-being of our students. This pandemic has continued to exacerbate the inequities faced by our students as we continue to learn from unequal playing fields.
Many of our students have been learning entirely remotely from the start of this semester, and therefore have been navigating challenges that come with the absence of face-to-face teaching. Some of us are working to support ourselves financially during a time when financial hardship has increased exponentially, along with trying to balance course workloads that have become more rigorous with remote learning. Students living on campus for the first time are still adapting to a transition to college that looks different from how they envisioned it would be. Some of them are coping with a semester where they cannot travel home and see their families or their closest friends. There are students who have family members who are sick or have pre-existing conditions. Your students are still coping every day from a variety of losses, though they are still trying to succeed this semester, even when odds feel against them. Your students still want to learn – and more importantly, they want to be taught.
We recognize that faculty have also been presented with many unforeseen challenges of remote teaching, too – some without much prior experience, some who are teaching face-to-face during this pandemic, and those who are enduring the labor of managing both pedagogical environments simultaneously. We also acknowledge that there are faculty managing families at home, many with children who are facing their own remote learning challenges, and also recognize that some faculty have family who are sick or have pre-existing conditions. We know that you are also coping every day from a variety of losses, while some are naturally different in nature from your students. We hope that at this point in the semester, as we are all continuing to face this pandemic, you are open to thinking out loud with us about ways we can work together.
With this hope in mind, we have compiled some points that reflect feedback from students on what they would like their professors to keep in mind and/or do to support them for the remainder of the semester and make the most of their educational experience.
- Many professors practiced doing check-ins with their students last semester and at the start of this semester, we ask that you take the time to continue doing them. This could be taking a couple minutes at the start of synchronous class meetings to ask your students how they are doing and feeling or sending a biweekly email. If you are teaching an asynchronous class maybe this means scheduling an optional meeting time to check-in with your students. Creating space for a check-in lets your students know that you care for them beyond their grades and want to create a nurturing learning environment. If you feel comfortable, maybe this also entails sharing with your students how you are doing as you open up this dialogue. Your students are human, we know you are too.
- At this time when so much is uncertain, many of your students are craving consistency, as we are managing multiple classes with different remote platforms and expectations. We ask that you do your best to communicate expectations clearly and consistently. Some of you have been doing weekly announcements for what the expectations are each week and what needs to be accomplished, and many students greatly appreciate this. It is especially appreciated when students are told when and where an assignment will be posted rather than being expected to find it on Blackboard themselves. Students also appreciate when you are able to make yourself available every week for a consistent time, perhaps it is to check in and respond to emails in a timely manner. This is especially appreciated for asynchronous classes that are not meeting and for entirely remote synchronous classes.
- While we understand that many of you had begun planning your courses long before the semester started, we ask that you try to be accommodating and flexible with your students and understanding of their circumstances. Try to consider that what works for some of your students may not work as well for others, especially in an environment of remote learning. With that in mind, do not require your students to keep their video on during class meetings. Some of your students may not have access to a working camera or a strong enough connectivity to sustain that engagement. Be flexible with accepting chat participation for your students who may not have a quiet environment to attend class or access to a working microphone with the technology they are using to be there. (See this resource)
- Please be considerate of your students’ time and remain mindful that they are balancing other course loads. Many of them are also managing work schedules on top of school or other responsibilities outside of your course. Consider being flexible with your due dates — we ask this knowing that it is important to continue to abide by the calendar outlined in your syllabi to stay on schedule, but things happen and come up. Some of your students have experienced internet outages or other sudden challenges that come from studying at home. If you notice an assignment hasn’t been turned in, instead of jumping to penalize the student and close the opportunity for them, check in with them. The dynamic between you and your students might change by acknowledging the priority at hand.
- We know that this semester has presented just as many challenges to learning for students as it has for professors with teaching. Know that your students want to be taught by you. As Provost Lyman highlighted in her October report to faculty, students have been experiencing the burden of feeling as though they have to teach themselves to survive the semester. This is daunting for them, because it means that their expectations have not been met and they have to rely on themselves during an already pressing time. We are grateful for the creative efforts to teach outside of the typical classroom environment. Some professors have been adding audio to lectures or holding class meetings that are recorded. Recording your lectures is helpful for students, because it allows them to go back and review the content if they need to. Making your content as accessible as possible will ease the feeling for students that they have to teach themselves. If you are unsure if something is working for your students, for all of your students, we ask that you take the time to ask us, and find solidarity in the common goal to learn.
Thank you for your time and attention to this important work of our campus. We are truly in this together.
Haley Hershenson, President
Celinet Nuñez Ramos, Executive Vice President Tevin Green, Vice President of Finance
Hannah Segal, Vice President of Academic Affairs & Governance
Tiana Concepcion, Vice President of Programming
Georgina Chavez, Vice President of Marketing & Communications Halle Paz, Senate Chair
Brittanie Whyte, Council of Organizations Chair