Living From Home: Day 1
This was going to be a different Day 1 post. It was going to be about our walk from Knettishall Heath, which is the official start of Peddars Way, to Little Cressingham, 15 miles up the path. And I’ll still write that, because it was a wonderful trip and I want to share it. But things have changed and I want to document that too.
Between the final time I looked at my university’s health guidelines and email messages before leaving London (Friday morning GMT) and when we landed in DFW for our connecting flight to St. Louis (Friday afternoon CDT), the UK had been put on the watchlist. Everyone returning from there had to check in with the health services and get instructions. Our layover was three hours long because we cleared immigration in no time (more on that later) and our flight was delayed, so we hit Starbucks and found some seats. Big cup of tea in hand, I started calling the university as instructed. I dialed two numbers and was told at each that I should call a different one (the first suggested the second, the second gave me a third). The third number had a recorded message which had clearly not been updated since the changed policies and claimed the health service was closed even though the recording went on to say it was scheduled to be open at the hour I called. At that point I gave up and called my department office to tell them TheH and I were on our way home and probably destined for 14 days of self-isolation. Our administrator, who was on another line dealing with a colleague’s more serious travel crisis, emailed me phone numbers when she was free, but they were the same numbers I already had. So I gave up and read the news until our flight boarded.
Yesterday was Day 1 of our self-isolation. I call it “living from home” rather than “living at home” or “working from home” because everything we do has to radiate out from here. We’re still working, indeed our work time right now is greater than it would have been without the shutdown since we’re figuring out how to transfer in-person courses into distance learning. We’re luckier than our poor students, since we are in our regular home. They left a week to 10 days ago thinking they’d be back in a week, and some of them didn’t even go home until they found out they couldn’t come back to school.
We spent yesterday unpacking, assessing our situation, and catching up with work. I sent emails to my grad teaching assistants and to my two classes. I made up multiple ToDo lists, just writing down things as they came to mind. There is a lot ToDo in the next week. I’m very grateful to have the extra week of “break” because shifting to online teaching will require some deep thinking about how to do it. I’ve never taught a course online, although I’ve considered it in the past; ironically, the one I’d thought of doing is the Privacy course I’m teaching now. But a full, planned-ahead online course is quite different from what we have in front of us now. More than half the semester has been taught in person, so now it’s a matter of figuring out how to revise the syllabus, requirements, and teaching approach, as well as to compress six weeks of material into five. At least I don’t have to change the finals week requirement. But I do have to consider whether group projects, which are the big assignment in the second half, are doable.
The first thing we’re doing is devising a survey that will help us understand the individual situations of our students. I have over 70 students total in the two classes, some of whom are international. I don’t know where they’ve been or where they are now. Are they even home? Where is home? How many time zones am I dealing with? What kind of study situations are they in? Even if they all have broadband (major assumption), how good is it? All the readings are on Canvas, so that isn’t an issue, but both classes are combination lecture-discussion and they were each developing a nice rhythm. The students were getting to know not just me but each other. Can I keep that any of that growing rapport, and if so, how?
In addition to my own classes, I’m in charge of the honors thesis evaluations and other departmental awards. The honors thesis students get another round of edits once the first and second reader reports are in, which is supposed to happen tomorrow. I also have to canvass the faculty for nominations for awards. Both of these processes will be trickier without easy access to materials for both the students and faculty. It is doable, but it will probably take more work. I am also on a scholarship committee that has had to transition from an in-person interview weekend to a virtual system and we’re still working out the details. I may be able to attend the final day, which is when the interviews will take place, or I may have to join the Skype/Zoom calls from home.
And finally, as Director of Undergraduate Studies I have to think about the department as a whole. Has everyone communicated with their students? Has everyone read the new requirements for online teaching and communication that the Dean sent out last week? Do they need help beyond the materials provided by the Teaching Center (which is completely overwhelmed right now)? We only have one regular faculty member who has taught a fully online course within the department, and that was a major production with professionally guided prep, video editing professionals, and the like. We won’t have any of that now, but he probably has some good advice for us, so I need to loop him into a conversation. And how do I do all this from the isolation of my home study, which is basically a desk, a bed, and some storage space in our spare bedroom?
I am so, so fortunate, though. Yes, we’re older and therefore technically more at risk if we get the virus, but we’re both in excellent health, don’t take any prescription medications, and don’t have any of the risk factors that make the virus more dangerous. We also know how to cook and have well stocked freezers, refrigerator, and pantry. St. Louis is nowhere near a lockdown and neither are we. According to the CDC we are in the low to medium range of risk, so we are practicing social distance and self-isolation. We are completely asymptomatic, so our actions err on the side of excess precaution.
Another way in which we’re fortunate: we came home before the travel ban took effect, on the same flights we originally booked. When we came through DFW the arrivals hall was nearly empty and without checked luggage we were through immigration and customs less than 30 minutes after landing. If we hadn’t had to spend 15 minutes getting to a gate in the furthest terminal away via the Skytrain we could have made an earlier connection home (we tried and missed it by less than 5 minutes after they closed the door). Contrast our experience to this photo in the Washington Post, where the immigration hall was packed and people took hours to get through each section: immigration, baggage claim, and customs.
I read this story in the Guardian in which residents of Hubei talked about how they are getting through their lockdown. They emphasized the importance of social connections and keeping diaries of their days. That resonated for me. Hopefully we’ll be able to resume a more normal day-to-day life, with appropriate social distance, after our 14 days are up. That is, if things don’t get much worse here in St. Louis; we have very few recorded cases but people don’t seem to understand the concept of asymptomatic transmission and are still going to bars, restaurants, shopping malls, and the like to congregate rather than just to get in, get stuff, and get out. We shall see. In the meantime, I’m going to try and write daily posts. Feel free to read, share, and comment. Or just lurk. Whatever helps and feels right to you.
Stay safe Sunita, I’ll think we will all be living from home before too long x
@Cathy: Thanks, Cathy, and you too. I guess you’ll have your girls home for a while. I’m glad to see that NI is coordinating with the Republic, and the UK govt. might finally be following the rest of the world.
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I hope so Sunita, the lack of clarity is very frustrating.
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Glad you guys got back before the ban! My dad and stepmom are flying back tomorrow from the south of France – everything there has shut down. Hopefully things go as smoothly for them.
@Chris: Fingers crossed for them! I’m hoping the weekend crush at the airports will subside a bit, and that the govt. will increase workers at the 13 intake airports. What’s going on now is unconscionable.
My last few days have been a flurry of emails and conversations about managing the response in the various important parts of my life: my work, my church, my kids’ university/school. (I am exhausted). This morning was probably our last in person church service for a while (with very depleted attendance, which is good since we can’t go over 250 according to provincial health officer).
Just before it started, I got the email saying that my college will suspend all in person classes after this week. We are ahead of official requirements in doing this, but the anxiety and uncertainty was just too much for people. I think it is the right call. Daughter just started 2 week spring break; I’ll surprised if public schools resume on time (not telling her this, as she’s stressed enough about her grade 12 year without wondering how it will end).
I am very lucky because I’m teaching 2x 25-person writing classes and we’re at the stage when they are working on research papers. I will post a lot of resources online and hold plenty of virtual office hours to coach them through it. The challenge will be keeping them engaged in a required first-year class. Some will struggle to finish without the in person contact.
Good luck to you! I’m glad you’re safe home and that your trip was good.
@Liz: Your poor daughter. This is so hard on the students, especially seniors or anyone who is counting on grades and certifications from this year to be able to proceed to the next. I’m sure that in the end ways will be found, but it’s very anxiety-producing.
I just read that Gov. Pritzker ordered restaurants in Illinois to stop serving dine-in customers, and there’s backlash from people who say it’s an overreaction. I don’t think it is. Exponential growth isn’t something people intuitively understand, and our lack of understanding can be deadly. Overreaction beats underreaction in this case, by a lot.
Sounds like you have a lot of work to do but handling things admirably . Please stay safe . Oh and even though I understand it is hard to transfer in person courses to online learning, I still think you guys will manage and at least you have college kids to teach not middle school kids . The only reason I am saying this is not to say you have it easy but that they as a whole maybe a bit more conscious to actually do it . NY schools are finally closed starting tomorrow . the next week teachers are supposed to receive training as to how to do actual online learning . I mean I am sure they figure it out but I just can’t see twelve year old boy sitting in front of the computer all day doing work of his own free will . Oy . Please stay safe.
Hey Sunita, sending you good thoughts and mighty constitutions for you and the H. I too am holing up at home with my elderly mama. I’m reading, she’s doing watercolour, and we occasionally go out on our chilly deck for a breath of fresh air. As of tomorrow, my HS goes to an online training session and then online learning at least until April 1st. Which, I suspect, will continue to the Easter break. I’ll finally get to test my long-held-back lesson plan on using a podcast series instead of teaching a novel …
Keep well and good strength to you!
Oh and I am remote too for the next two weeks at least . Here hoping courts will close too because it is ridiculous at this point . Right now we don’t need to go to the office but of course still have to go to courts if they are open .
@cheburashka: We are as safe as it’s reasonable to expect these days. We’re lucky here in STL, because although we will definitely increase our numbers, we’re less densely populated than the larger metro areas and that helps us avoid infection.
The piece of advice that really struck me about the transition to online learning was that this is not really online learning, it’s triage. What that meant was that we don’t have the time or training to create a real online course. We’re just trying to get students through the semester. And it’s definitely easier for me, as a social science college professor, than so many other teachers. My poor science colleagues!
But yes, all the schools need to close. And they will. Our city and county leaders just got together to announce widespread closings. NY will too. It’s obvious and your leaders know it, they’re just working out the details. Thank goodness for state and local leaders who are stepping into the vacuum created by our Dangerous Idiot Administration.
Oh, our courts closed too. I imagine yours will follow suit. Again, they’re smart. It’s got to be logistical rather than anything else which takes more time.
@MissBates: Thanks for the good thoughts, Kay, and back at ya! I know you’ll keep Mama Bates safe, and goodness knows she’s lived through at least as bad if not worse (and how awful is that to realize?). Thankfully old age is somewhat correlated with common sense, at least I like to think it is in my case. 😉
This is all so scary, and I worry about my more risk-bearing friends and family. But it’s not quite the zombie apocalypse, despite the many similarities.
Glad you made it home safely Sunita and that you and the H are well-stocked at home. In Australia we are a bit behind the US and UK in experience of COVID-19 but I’m sure we will catch up.
Discussion at work has commenced about working from home and there are a lot of logistics to be dealt with. Fortunately I’m in a role which can easily be done from home (in fact I’ve done it before in another organisation for entirely different reasons) and my boss trusts me so that’s not an issue.
I had to go to a medical clinic today (I’m not sick – it was a work meeting) and they had set up a hand sanitising station. First step was sanitise the hands, second was to complete a form about travel/exposure/symptoms and third step was to take the form to the counter. The amount of people who could not follow those simple instructions made me think “god help us all”. Most people used the sanitiser at least…
We live in interesting times I guess.
@Kaetrin: Let’s hope your leaders are not as idiotic as our leaders. Probably a forlorn hope.
Working from home sounds so much easier than it is. At least we don’t have small children to manage at the same time. But logistically it’s a pain. I have a 2-hour meeting scheduled for tomorrow (Zoom conference) and I’m not looking forward to sitting in my little spare room staring at my screen for that long. I guess I can get up and walk around? I have no idea what the etiquette is on video conferences. 😉
People are amazingly bad at following instructions. Even simple ones.
I guess it might depend on what kind of conference it is tomorrow and how familiar you are with the participants? If you know them well enough it doesn’t have to be super formal. Maybe you can negotiate a couple of short breaks?
As for me – I’ve had the news today that from tomorrow I’ll be working from home (I work (paid work!) 3 days per week). I just have to go in and pick up my files and my laptop and a couple of other bits and bobs. I have worked from home before so it’s very doable for me. Most of my work is by phone or email anyway so I can do it from pretty much any location that has internet and cell coverage. And my son is 17 so if the schools close he’s no problem to have at home (though he’s doing year 12 – final year of high school – this year so I’m a bit worried about the impact it’s going to have as this is the year that determines his university entry.
My sister in law has 3 children under 10 and they’re… rambunctious shall we say? 🙂 If the schools close (it’s coming I’m sure) she will have an interesting time of it trying to work from home.
And yes, generally, people suck at following instructions!
@Kaetrin: I’m glad that your WFH isn’t going to be too awful. My meeting was shorter than expected and except for losing the internet once, went well. It was made more pleasurable by my colleague’s three little boys coming and waving at us. 🙂
that sounds a lot more fun than a regular conference!
It was! They were out playing (digging for worms) in the back yard and they came up and stuck their faces in the webcam and smiled and waved. We all felt much better after that.
Sunita, glad you guys are back home safely and are well. Wish you continued good health.
Things are dire where we are. Schools closed two weeks ago and have switched online. We are told that schools may be closed through May here. We are very lucky that our teachers have successfully pivoted to online teaching. However, I am surprised how much work our little one does in one day. It is taking me almost the entire day of working with him to get it done, and they told us, it should take us only three hours. I am finding it overwhelming and am getting almost none of my work done. And I work part time. I have no idea how people with full time jobs are “working from home” with more than one young children at home. It would definitely be challenging if not impossible.
@Keira: Thanks for checking in! I know it’s awful for you in WA. And I’d be surprised if schools opened again this year. I know that there are a lot of people angry that our Chancellor announced the cancellation of Commencement, but no one who looks at the models can see anything but 2-3 months of this.
Working online is really hard. It’s bad enough at the college level, but for little ones it’s much worse. I feel for all the children and parents who are suddenly thrust into these roles without preparation or warning, many of them having to continue their own work. It’s a disaster.