By Grace Beckner
For the past 10 years Dr. Amanda Grieme Bradley, associate professor of psychology and chair of the social and behavioral sciences department, got her joy as a professor and person from the relationships she was able to build at Trevecca.
But over the past two years this joy has been depleted.
She says there are layers to the factors impacting her as a professor navigating a world of Covid-19.
“I get so much joy out of relationships with students and time in the classroom, teaching has always been very relational and very reciprocal for me,” Grieme Bradley said. “Now I’m not having coffee with students, I’m not chatting with them in the Caf. Class discussions are different because people are uncomfortable talking with a mask on, we are all getting countless emails about attendance, and having to do extra work. Some of those things take away from the beautiful work that we do.”
Grieme Bradley said some Covid-era teaching conditions–such as new attendance policies, remote instruction via Blackboard and teaching while wearing a mask–have been “soul-sucking” for her.
“When we teach through Blackboard or Zoom and no one has a camera on, I have no idea if anyone is listening. Or then we end [the class] and five people are still logged in, so I’m like, ‘Oh, okay cool, you’re not really here,’” said Grieme Bradley. “And that’s just a weird thing I wouldn’t normally know about a student…It’s hard not to take that personally as a human.”
The CDC reported 27 percent of teachers were experiencing depressive symptoms, with 37 percent reporting symptoms consistent with anxiety.
Allison Buzard, social work professor and program director, said she has been able to build up “pandemic stamina” over the past two years.
“In some ways a lot of the new normalcy has been established, which has been really helpful, but I almost forget what it’s like to teach not in the middle of a pandemic anymore,” said Buzard. “I only had, I think it was a year and a half of teaching in higher education pre-pandemic, so I have actually been pandemic-teaching longer than not.”
As pandemic-related circumstances changed semester to semester, Buzard said there was a forced creativity and innovation pushing her to ask herself, “How can I make this work the best we can make it work?”
But even in the midst of trying to make class sessions on Zoom–or spaced out in a classroom with masks on–engaging, Buzard said she still felt as though she was letting someone down.
“Either folks on Zoom or folks in the room, so I think that was a shift for me, of trying to figure that out,” she said.
Grieme Bradley said the volume of emails she has received concerning attendance has been “astounding,” especially due to missed classes because of students impacted by Covid-19 and quarantine.
“It just feels really nitpicky. It’s like, ‘Well you only watched half of the video, so I’m not going to mark you as present.’ The attendance deal of going back and checking, and did people watch [the lecture video], and modifying attendance is just quite burdensome,” said Grieme Bradley. “I understand that we have to do what we have to do, and that this is just a necessary evil right now.”
Buzard describes the attendance issue as “a puzzle no one wants to put together, but we have to.”
She realizes no institution has it all figured out when it comes to accounting for attendance of students impacted by Covid and quarantine requirements. But with the extra burdens professors are having to take on, trying to figure it out eats up valuable time.
“While it is a brain puzzle that is still a little difficult for me to solve, there is a part of me that has tremendous compassion for everyone involved. From the faculty, to the clinic, to the disability office, they are all overwhelmed, they are all taking on this additional responsibility,” said Buzard. “I think there is just an additional burden on us to figure this out, and yes, I’m tired.”
A survey by the RAND American Teacher Panel found that many pandemic-era teaching conditions were linked to “job-related stress, depressive symptoms, and burnout.”
Tom Middendorf, university provost and senior vice president, has seen the fatigue present among faculty members on campus and can tell people want closure as they cope with the idea that Covid isn’t “going away.”
“I know that it takes a toll when you are so hopeful that there is going to be an end, but there is an ongoing part of it,” said Middendorf. “So change fatigue, this constant state of having to adjust to the virus in some way, it does take a psychological toll on people in general.”
Within her department Buzard said she has committed to holding space for her colleagues, which can be something as simple as stepping into the hallway to discuss ways to better connect with students.
“Just this week out in the hallway we all popped out with our masks on, and we are like, ‘Does anyone have a good system for how we are tracking attendance right now? I don’t want to complain about it, I just want to know, does anyone have a system that’s working for them?’ And at the time, no one did,” said Buzard. “Then two days later, one of my colleagues was like, ‘Hey, I just started this new thing, it’s working really well, I just wanted to share this with you.’”
Middendorf said he realizes community, fellowship and communal celebration gives energy to faculty and staff. The problem is these life-giving practices have become a danger.
“If we aren’t careful and we put a lot of people in the same room together, inevitably somebody is going to be contagious,” said Middendorf. “The last thing we want to do is get a lot of folks sick, and I’ve felt like one of the key factors [during the pandemic] is protecting the most vulnerable on our campus, and our faculty really do represent that demographic.”
Middendorf said the administration has tried to focus on the simple things that can boost morale, although he has not been able to do as much as he would like.
“There are things that we have done, but I think the things that make the most impact is the community. That’s probably what people crave the most, and what continuously gives people the passion for what they do at Trevecca,” Middendorf said.
The World Health Organization defines pandemic fatigue as “feeling demotivated about following recommended behaviors to protect ourselves and others from the virus.”
Grieme Bradley said the pandemic has brought about unique challenges socially, with both students and professors experiencing a shared burden of burnout.
“Now, I’m living through a pandemic, you’re living through a pandemic, we have a shared hopelessness, we have a shared burnout. I am actively experiencing the same thing you are, and that just makes it very complex and different.”
As chair of the social and behavioral sciences department Grieme Bradley should be leading and supporting the other faculty members in her department, but she said it is hard to do when she is experiencing the same burnout they are feeling as well.
“It kind of feels like we are all treading water, and the effort it would take to support one another feels big,” said Grieme Bradley. “I don’t mean to sound so hopeless, but it is a hard space right now.”
Buzard was also struck by the uncommon situation where students and professors encounter similar trauma in a disordered world at the same time.
“That is not necessarily normal, that an entire community–faculty, staff, students, everybody–is going through it at the same time,” said Buzard. “So we are dealing with our own exhaustion around it, and thinking about our own families and how they are coping with this or if they are sick, and we are also coming together in a learning community.”