Looking back as the academic year winds down, it seems as if the past twelve months have been particularly hard on a lot of people. Everyone in higher ed is always a little wiped out at this time of year, of course; and here in Ontario a record cold month (ice storms in April!) certainly didn’t help. But there’s more than that this time.
(NB: If this post seems a little vague at times, it’s because I can’t and won’t breach the confidential information of people I know and know about.)
Without getting into details, I know or know of a fair number of people — significantly more than usual — who have really struggled personally and emotionally this year. The politics of backlash that are swirling around us, the frustrations and disappointments of Canada’s reconciliation process, an increasingly difficult economy, all these and more seem to be conspiring against the ability of people to teach and learn in relative quiet. What makes matters worse is the attitude of far too many discourse-influencers towards young people, especially students: that they should not expect to be able to do so. Our campuses, we are increasingly told, are the only workplaces that should be regularly disrupted by hostile outsiders, whether they be political opportunists, technological interlopers, or merely troublemakers. And those who work and study on campuses are the only people, we are regularly told, whose work should be disrupted by regular challenges to their identities.
Even if, like me, your identity is one of the few that don’t get regularly challenged, it can all get pretty wearying. If not, I can only imagine the exhaustion that could set in.
Compound all that with the usual work overload that comes this time of year as a result of the way we schedule things, and it’s no wonder that a larger number of people this year seem to be struggling.
An important part of teaching and learning, and a crucial but increasingly embattled part of life, it seems to me, is kindness. In difficult times, it’s an ethical duty to hold each other up, to give ground and grant leeway when we can, whether it comes to giving extensions on assignments or making other forms of allowances where we can. This isn’t a matter of abandoning standards, but of recognizing that, as my old supervisor once put it, sometimes life gets in the way. When we’re facing difficulties, it’s important to at least try to give people the chance to work to their potential, so that external, non-academic factors don’t end up hampering their work too much.
Again, this has all been unspecific on my part, but I’m sure that many academics can recognize the general lines of what I’m saying here. So, in brief conclusion, be kind to each other this spring, and may this summer treat us better.