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OPINION: 5 recommendations for faculty to help students next semester

A Letter to Westminster Faculty

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A Letter to Westminster Faculty

Dear Westminster Faculty:

As fall semester comes to a close and you prepare your lesson plans for the spring semester, we have a few small requests. The fall 2020 semester has been long and trying for all of us, and we would like a different experience in the spring. We hope that you hear us and understand our positions. Our ask is rather simple: we would like to be able to punch out from schoolwork during times that are built into our schedule for us to do so, such as self-care days and weekends. We ask for less busywork and for our assignments to be more intentional. We ask that you give us the ability to use our mental health days (and some weekend time) to disconnect from schoolwork.

We are sure you’ve felt the stress of this semester. It has certainly come with its own set of confusion and unknowns. But you’ve also had some sense of normalcy: you go home to your families at the end of the day, you sleep in your own beds, you eat home-cooked meals. Due to the current climate, we have been asked to limit our off-campus travel. As such, we are confined to Westminster.

That means we eat the same meals with the same couple people and are confined to our concrete block rooms for most of the semester. The stress induced by this situation has been apparent. Many of us have had more tension and conflict in our roommate relationships than normal because we’re made to be together all the time without reprieve. Many of us haven’t seen our families much, if at all. Our social and academic stressors build up, and, given the parameters imposed upon us, we don’t always have an outlet to allow us to cope with such difficulties. Breaks from campus, from the lifestyle of a student learning in the midst of COVID-19, are essential. But we do not receive any.

While you do not necessarily have the ability to build more time at home into our schedules, you do have the power to lessen our academic stressors so that we can more effectively cope with our social stressors.

As much as we would like for things to be normal, they aren’t. Our friends and family members are sick with this virus. Some of our grandparents or other family members are even dying. We don’t have the time to deal with these emotions because we’re buried under our schoolwork. We are facing a normal workload in a year that’s been anything but normal. There are several ways to go about making things easier for us. Here are a few we’d like to recommend:

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1. Don’t give us busywork. Not only is it more for you to grade, but it’s unnecessary stress for us. Before assigning something, ask yourselves how much educational value you would get out of it if you were a student in your own class.

2. Be intentional with your assignments. Instead of giving us three assignments, is there a way to give us one assignment that could cover the same material and still align with the course’s learning objectives, while being less time-consuming for us?

3. Consider your due dates. We ask that assignments aren’t due on or the day directly after our mental health days. We’ve also noticed lots of due dates on weekends this semester. When you were in college, your assignments were likely due at the beginning or end of class, not on Saturdays or Sundays. While we understand there is technology that allows us to do this now, we do not believe it is appropriate for you to ask for assignments to be turned in on days that we typically use to catch up or prepare for due dates in the coming week and use to tend to our own mental health. Technology is one of those things that can be both a blessing and a curse. We ask that you observe in what ways you are utilizing its “blessings.”

4. Consider your teaching styles and methods. We are living in unprecedented times. Many teaching methods that have worked in the past may not work in the current climate. What resources are available that can really help to engage us in the material you’re teaching?

5. Be conscientious of all students. We know teaching virtually or in a hybrid setting (meaning, in this case, classes meet in-person and are also attended by virtual students) is extremely atypical to what you are accustomed to. We also know you have to sit through lots of training sessions on how to accommodate hybrid classes. However, virtual students are not getting the same education as those attending classes in-person. Is there a way you can engage virtual students in their learning experience in similar ways that you do for in-person students, allowing them to get the most from their education?

This semester, many students have faced mental health issues that they haven’t before. The student who always gets the best scores in your classes or always asks questions and participates in discussions? That student is also dealing with a lot. The on-campus counselors have reported that they have met with 50% more students this semester than in past semesters. It seems as though there is a clear correlation as to why this is. Despite students seeking additional counseling, however, we are still struggling.

We are asking for help but continuing to drown. We ask that you view us not simply as essay-writing androids, but as human beings. Human beings who are going through many of the same experiences as you are, at that. Most of us have experienced symptoms of burnout, depression and anxiety.

These symptoms include but are not limited to a lack of focus, lack of motivation, lack of a normal sleep schedule, feeling constantly exhausted, and loss of confidence and creativity. We have struggled mentally, and our academics and learning have suffered as a result. You may think these are normal feelings for college students. After all, by the end of any semester, we’re all ready for hibernation.

We assure you these feelings are not the same types of burnout or tiredness we have experienced in prior years. No, these feelings belong in a category of their own, one that is linked directly to the experience of seeking higher education whilst also enduring high political tension and a worsening global pandemic. By considering your assignments and lesson plans in the ways mentioned above, we can succeed in our education without having to sacrifice our mental health. We’re asking you to think about the WE in Westminster.

As always, we are ever so grateful for your wisdom and knowledge. Many of us chose Westminster because of you; you are so supportive of us academically and personally. We appreciate it more than you’ll ever understand. Thank you for your consideration and accommodation in these matters.

We offer this letter on behalf of Westminster students.

Sincerely,

Lauryn Todd, Holcad Lead College Correspondent, & Charlotte Shunk, Holcad Columnist

 

(3) comments

Mitchel_Henderson

This article does not reflect the student body. I find it interesting that this letter sent on behalf of Westminster students is not even close to reflecting the student body. The article does not even hold its original title; “A Letter to Westminster Faculty.” Leaders on campus such as the SGA president were not interviewed or questioned about how they felt about this semester. The students at Westminster love the faculty and understand that this semester is full of stressful situations. Faculty members have not been exempt from this pandemic. Even if they can go home to their family, it is anything but normal. These faculty members are constantly worrying about the wellbeing of their children and family members just like us. The faculty cannot go home and hang up their teaching hat. Their kids are either having to risk their lives in an in-person classroom or try learning through a virtual setting. Despite their life at home, they have continued to fully commit themselves to their students and Westminster. Every single one of my professors have altered their regular curriculum to ease the academic burden on their students. The reason assignments have been due after weekends is because they have extended regular due dates to allow students to have more time to finish this work. At no point have any professors looked at their students as "essay-writing androids." It is absurd to accuse these faculty members that they would see their students as merely machines pressing buttons on a keyboard. Tensions have run high this semester and we are all burnt out, faculty included. This article was sent to all of the faculty expecting it to make a difference. Speaking with the dean, professors, and other faculty is the proper way to address these “concerns.” Writing a to-do list to the faculty who still need to grade papers and finish this semester is ineffective and only adds to their burdens. Mental illness has affected all of us this semester, faculty included. This is our time to come together as a campus community and embody why Westminster is the best college around. It is the professors that make Westminster great. Instead of blaming them for the effects of a pandemic, we should be thanking them and lifting them up. Personally, I want to thank all of the faculty for their work this semester. This place would not be the same without your unwavering commitment.

-Mitchel Henderson

Lauryn Todd Staff
Lauryn Todd

Mitchel,

We appreciate your response and feedback. There were several students who were consulted before writing this column, and some are SGA members. We understand that many professors did adjust their courses with the understanding that this semester was going to be challenging. I'm glad that this was your experience. However, this was not the experience of many students. This column was intended to ask professors to think about what, if any, changes they have made to their courses. We understand that this semester has been difficult for them as well. As is stated in our original column, and as you agreed, we all appreciate our faculty. As you mentioned, they often work outside of being on campus to help us succeed.

They care about us academically and personally. They give so much of themselves to us. It is one of the many things that make Westminster special. However, many students who have struggled this semester may not have felt comfortable sharing their experiences with their professors. This is not in any way intended to attack our amazing faculty, but rather it is a way for us to come together as a community to help each other. By considering the things outlined in this column, it is my hope that next semester will be better for students and faculty. I have had faculty members reach out since publishing this article, and we have had wonderful conversations regarding our unique experiences that I genuinely feel are productive and further open the lines of communication between students and faculty. I hope you are enjoying your break!

Best regards,

Lauryn

jackkarson

It's great that other students were consulted. The issue is that you signed this with "We offer this letter on behalf of Westminster students." I can assure you that a substantial portion of the student body is extremely happy with the hard work of the faculty this year. Personally, I've had a very rough semester like the rest of us, but do I think professors have treated me like an "essay-writing android?" No, I think that's absurd. There's nothing wrong with voicing your opinion, and I'm grateful that WCN gives students an outlet to do so, but please do not claim to represent the entire community. Remember that professors are in the same pandemic we are, except many of them have children/parents to take care of. Now imagine one of your professors writes an article titled "A Letter to Westminster Students" in which they criticize you and your peers for struggling during this pandemic. Would you lose respect for that professor? Again, your opinions are completely valid because they are your own. Claiming to represent the entire student body, in my opinion, invalidates your message here.

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