Pandemic Teaching

The title above may make this post seem extremely urgent – as if this were an emergency. Well, in many ways it is. We are still in the midst of at least one global health crisis.

I didn’t have the experience that many of my colleagues had in the Spring where classes were abruptly interrupted and driven into online formats. I feel for them and their students. As for me, in March, I was busy trying to put the finishing touches on my dissertation. I wasn’t teaching that semester, so I felt the effects of the pandemic much differently than those in the classroom.

Well, now it’s July (nearly August), and here we are. Yes, we know more about how COVID-19 behaves, but it seems like the world is in more disarray than before. People are sick and tired of sitting around at home and desperately want to get out and about – to their own and our collective risks. People already predisposed to government suspicion and conspiracy are blaming it and the media on this so-called hoax that has already killed and hospitalized millions around the globe – some of whom I know (and perhaps you do too) personally. Some of that crew is fighting tooth-and-nail to defend their so-called “right” to stand against what they see as government interference into American privacy and personal property, i.e. wearing a mask. The Americans for Disabilities Act had an anniversary. We’ve lost some giants of the movement and of popular culture. Parents are taking to Facebook to malign teachers for “not doing their jobs” when thinking about themselves and the safety of their students at school. We’ve painted BLACK LIVES MATTER in the streets only to wake up one morning and see the murals intentionally vandalized with skidmarks. White male supremacist governors are fighting to sue Black female mayors of their own states for going the extra mile to take precautions to save lives. Or in other words, Black women are cleaning up after white men, again. Black men, women, and trans people are still getting killed in the streets (and in their homes). White people are still pretending like these are isolated events. Though some, perhaps being too bored with quarantine and armed with the luxury of time and self-evaluation, have taken to the streets in protest as allies. Others still have directed their ire at Confederate monuments or the President who has become, for many whites, the embodiment of all that’s wrong with racism. But I worry that when all is said and done, when Trump is no longer a headline and all the statues are gone, what will they do with themselves? Toward what will their anger be directed? My guess is back to Black people. We are seeing the worst of us all. Or maybe we are just seeing the truth.

I bring this up because as we move into a new academic school year, this is the reality that will still be going on. This is what our students will bring with them into the classroom. This is what teachers and professors and administrators and social workers and counselors and nurses and secretaries and custodians and food service workers will be carrying and trying to fend off and distract from and leverage and mourn. We should all be aware. We should all be kind to one another and to ourselves. We should all be striving for equity and justice, if not for ourselves, then especially for our neighbors – that’s the Christian thing to do, right?

This semester, I’ll be teaching a course called “Shakespeare: Kings, Queens, Tyrants.” It’s an advanced Shakespeare studies seminar for undergrads at a small, predominately white semi-liberal arts college (university, officially). Central to the DNA of the course is a focus on the upcoming Presidential election, but given all that’s been happening, what’s also central will be concerns about racism, justice, and public health, and how these impact and are impacted by leadership. Shakespeare speaks to all of this. But Shakespeare is not the final word.

I admit that it feels weird to be teaching Shakespeare during this time. After all, he is the deadest and whitest and male-est of all Dead White Men writers. Well, maybe. But somehow in this push to Buy Black and Read Black, etc, I am struck by the fact that I just got a PhD in white people and am about to go into a class (virtually, of course) and, ultimately, teach about white people. For me, race and racism are not just concerns about Blackness or Black people, but also about whiteness and white people. So here I am. I find it exciting but nerve wrecking to walk into a classroom (or “zoom” into one) at a brand new institution to teach a class of mostly white kids about whiteness, and use Shakespeare as a vessel to do this.

I think it’ll be fine. But I just have to remember everything that they’re dealing with in the world right now – everything that I, too, am managing.

We can get through this together. I don’t know what’s on the other side, or what it’ll look like. No one does. But let us take solace in knowing that there is one. Somewhere. Some time.