Surviving the Pandemic as a CTL GTA
I worked hard to maintain an appropriate work-life balance over the past couple of years to minimize the stress of graduate school. I split my time working on campus between the CTL office and my advisor’s lab. I spent my time at home engaged in my hobbies, relaxing, and intentionally not working. Then the pandemic started.
To continue my work at CTL, I had to create a workspace at home. This proved more difficult than I anticipated. I couldn’t quite recreate my workspace on campus, but I’ve managed to carve out some space and continue working remotely. I use my personal computer and desk in a spare bedroom. Other graduate students I know made temporary workspaces at their coffee or dining tables. It’s not ideal, but it will do. I also share my ‘office’ space with my cats who arguably aren’t the best co-workers, but they do their best.
As a GTA at CTL, my connection with students on campus is a little different than other TAs. My work supports CTL and TAs on campus rather than supporting faculty in the classroom or teaching my own course (virtually or in-person). Since March 13th, I’ve continued working for CTL virtually. So far, I’ve assisted CTL staff to support the Tech to Teaching program and our TA Awards program, created asynchronous instructional materials, taught virtual workshops and a virtual 8-week course, and conducted virtual classroom observations.
Surprisingly, a few good things have come out of the pandemic. We learned how important back-up plans are. The pandemic occurred during the mid-point of our TA Awards cycle. We had to shift our process online and provide additional time for each step of our cycle including for our reviewers, many of whom were faculty in the abrupt process of shifting their courses online. We couldn’t have a TA Awards ceremony because of the shutdown, so we only recognized TAs via email which felt less ‘recognition-y’. This year, we are planning a remote ceremony and building in additional buffer time between each step of our cycle. We also created two new award categories to recognize the work of online TAs (more details are available on our website).
I continue to meet with graduate students and postdocs who are interested in the Tech to Teaching program on BlueJeans. CTL has also continued having staff meetings online. Meeting virtually doesn’t feel too different from meeting in person when everyone has their camera on. Without cameras, it feels a lot more isolating. I’m glad I can continue to meet virtually with future faculty because I really enjoy these meetings. It brightens my day to connect with folks who are genuinely interested in teaching. If you’re a graduate student or postdoc who want to learn more about teaching, complete our interest form and we can meet, too.
I also learned about quality online instruction and gained valuable experience teaching online. I co-developed an asynchronous module on grading for our online TA Orientation with two faculty at CTL. I taught a few remote synchronous workshops for TAs and future faculty on grading and theories of learning. I had the opportunity to teach my own course online on introductory teaching skills for the first time for CIRTL (Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, & Learning). I’m also currently developing an online learning community for future faculty centered around inclusive teaching and mentoring (if you’re interested in participating, check out the landing page for the program). Because of these experiences, I discovered many instructional technologies that I will not only carry with me for future online courses, but also in-person courses. Without the pandemic, I’m not sure if these opportunities would have existed.
Even though I can still do all my work virtually, it’s exhausting to try to keep up the same pace as before. I feel burnt out. I’m starting to learn how to be kinder to myself though, because I know I’m not alone. Every graduate student I’ve talked to about this has echoed my feelings. You might feel like this, too. Life is not normal. I feel a glimmer of hope with the recent news about several effective vaccines which people are already receiving in the United States and around the world. Hopefully, life will get back to normal sometime during 2021 and we can see you all in person again at the CTL office. Meanwhile, I’m going to take a couple weeks off for a stay-cation. I hope you can take some time off to enjoy a break, too.