Isabella Strimling, Contributing Writer
Pictures from Google
I was mid-Zoom session the other day, in an intensified discussion about the ethics behind political decision-making in public policy. But, in between my professor and classmates’ mini soap box moments, I swore I heard the faint sound of childhood nostalgia come floating through my bedroom door. A, B, C, D, E, F, G… I’m sorry Dr. Z, but unmitigated curiosity dragged me up and forced me out the door to see what in the heck was going on, and why in the world someone was blaring the ABCs like we were headbanging at a rave.
Down the hall from me, my mother was taking part in a little Zoom session of her own. Our entire den had been turned into her literal preschool classroom—I seriously could not tell the difference, real from improvised. She wrapped the whole room ceiling to floorboards in brightly colored paper and had hung up the complete collection of her kids’ artwork, as well as her easel, Pete-the-Cat wall decorations, and the circle-time activities board. My heart has never been filled more suddenly with warmth and happiness for the message that she was sending to her kids and their parents in these difficult times.
As an early-intervention preschool teacher of almost 22 years, Rebecca Strimling is one of the most dedicated in the business, hands-down, and I promise it’s not just because she’s my mom—she’s the real deal. Every day she puts aside two hours to set up Zoom “classes” for her two to five-year-old special-needs students to recapture their daily schedules pre-quarantine, and to do her best as their educator to keep the calm in this chaotic hour of life. She stashes away concerns and fears for her own future, quarantine-life stresses, and personal anxieties for the sake of her students and their families. The pure happiness that radiates from the itty-bitty three-year-olds’ faces when they see her pop up on their computer screens, the equally-cute squeals of excitement and the “thank-God” looks of utter gratitude and sheer relief from the parents is the reaction that all teachers deserve from their students during these weeks of uncertainty.
Not much farther down the street from our house is my crazy-talented aunt. As a college professor and single mother of fraternal five-year-old twins, her life is a little wacky right now, to say the least. No preschool, no daycare, no parks or activity sites open, and without the ability to have family help out a ton due to our shelter-in-place requirement; she has been single-handedly keeping my extremely active cousins entertained and healthy for all 12 hours of the sun-lit day. Talk about a superhero. Also, she simultaneously maintains a steady lecture and grading process for students our age in a professional college environment—and let’s face it, we can be almost, if not more demanding than toddlers sometimes.
Watching my family full of educators continue to work through all of the present circumstances has opened my eyes to the fact that while we already know teachers are underpaid for their extremely important roles in the upbringing of society and future generations of the workforce, they are insanely undervalued, especially in times like these. Our McKendree staff has their work cut out for them in the remaining weeks of this semester. They have been working their butts off to support us as students through this transition. Like many of us who have never taken an online course before they have never taught one. Yet, they were given less than four days to learn, transfer all of their curriculum online, and be ready to facilitate our passage into virtual learning as smoothly as possible. Meanwhile, we were enjoying our days of leisure in what was supposed to be their spring break as well.
Professors of all departments were asked to take a giant leap out of their comfort zones and into the scary reality of global news: the dreaded, shelter-in-place-induced virtual classroom. And personally, I think most of them have been doing an exemplary job.
Dr. Sara Trask, of the communications department, is an excellent example of a professor with a go-getter attitude even as COVID-19 crushes her traditionally strategized curriculum. In my small-group communication course—which is a class literally reliant on face-to-face meetings—she has really stepped up the game. And although it’s tough to teach a speech class over the internet, I speak on behalf of all COM-252 when I say, she’s absolutely rocking it. She sends out daily reminders, never fails to check in with us every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and is somehow always available when we have questions or need guidance in the next step of our now-online group presentations. Despite the many time zone differences, and various altercations in the world of a pandemic, she is working hard to maintain basically the exact same schedule we had before the COVID catastrophe. She is keeping us both inspired and excited about our class and is teaching us as well as guiding us down the path of learning about communication online—since what once was a single chapter in our textbook has turned into an entire chapter of our lives.
Dr. Zanelotti is another unbelievably amazing professor whose quarantine teaching style is making a radical difference to his students’ lives. If you’ve taken a class with Dr. Z, you know what I’m talking about when I say he makes even the most boring-seeming philosophical lectures incredibly interesting and interactive. The discussions I have in my 8 a.m. class with him and the handful of other political science majors are irreplaceable and I do miss the face-to-face lecture styles he gave, but during the past few weeks, he has done his absolute best to keep his online classroom alive by having active conversations about the lectures and weekly readings via discussion boards. He takes the time every week to check in with his students and lighten the mood with pictures of his adorable cats before proceeding into a detailed review of the weeks’ discussions during our once-a-week Zoom check in. He is entirely dedicated to the well-being of his students and makes himself available for check ins whenever we may need them. He also sends out surveys to make sure he is reaching each individual, and actually ended up moving the meeting time to a later time in the day—since an 8 a.m. becomes a 6 a.m. for some students, like me, now on west coast time (shout-out all my classmates for agreeing to that).
Like Dr. Trask, Dr. Z is just one more of many professors at McKendree who are going so far out of their way to make this experience easier for us, sometimes at the expense of their own day-to-day lives.
As much as some of us are struggling with the self-isolation conundrum, let us remember that we have so many people around us in the McKendree community who are struggling all the same, and who are readily making themselves available to our needs—both educational and mental. I hope that you take some time in this period of solidarity to really appreciate the diligence and charisma of our McKendree professors and staff. I whole-heartedly applaud their adaptability to such an intense learning environment, and from the bottom of my heart, I thank you all, and teachers everywhere, in every grade for being so understanding during these crazy times. You are all superheroes for what you do and how much you care.