“I’ve taught through a hurricane. I’ve taught through 9/11. This is just completely different,” says history teacher Dr. Turner when I speak to him over Google Meet.
After over two decades as an educator, Dr. Turner is no stranger to teaching, but COVID-19 has forced him to reconsider the way in which he teaches. In the spring, he had to transition from in-person classes to virtual learning almost overnight. This fall, he has to restructure his classes in order to accommodate both on- and off-campus learners.
Dr. Turner has designed his fall semester courses so that, if needed, they could be taught virtually. Fortunately, the new hybrid format allows for some of the student/teacher interactions that were missing in the fall, but juggling the needs of two different groups of students, learning through two different platforms, is no easy task.
“The temptation is to forget the students at home,” Dr. Turner admits. He sometimes finds himself so caught up in conversations with the students in his physical classroom that he isn’t as aware of the students in his virtual classroom. He tries to check himself as often as he can to make sure that both groups of students are engaged in his class. His goal is for all of his students to remain active learners despite the fact that their means of learning have drastically changed over the past few months.
Dr. Turned himself is a lifetime learner who continues to study both past and present events. Over the summer, he read a book about the 1918 flu epidemic, a disease with many striking parallels to the COVID-19 pandemic we are facing today.
“There are just some things as human beings that we can’t control,” he says as he reflects upon what both the coronavirus pandemic and the flu epidemic have taught society. He wonders how we will regard this moment in history when we are on the other side of COVID-19.
“I think 2020 will be, at least in American history, one of those years that we look at as watershed years like 1776, or 1861, or 1941, or 1968,” Dr. Turner predicts, “because it’s not just the pandemic. It’s George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s a presidential election. It may be also things that we don’t even recognize. I wonder if when we look back in fifty years, we may see something that we have a blindspot to right now that farther along might end up being more important.”
As he continues to reflect upon the past in his history classes, Dr. Turner also makes sure to help his students realize the significance of the history we are experiencing at this very moment.
“We’re always living in history,” Dr. Turner, “but we’re living in history in a really visceral way right now.”