COVID Semester: Take Three

The semester started back up again here at UMF today, the third semester we’ve had that’s been affected by COVID. And true to form, it feels like another semester that’s different from any of the others that have come before it. The first semester (last spring) was dominated by a sudden switch to full remote classes. That was a doozy and a half, trying to figure out what we were doing on the fly, as we all scrambled to solve a zillion problems and obstacles that came up.

But we got through it, more or less. And it was followed by an entire summer where I stayed in my home pretty much the whole time. The good news was that we also had plenty of time to plan for what was going to happen in the fall. Heading into that semester, I think most people thought all our carefully laid plans would prove fruitless, and so it was no small surprise when we made it through the entire semester, and most of it went according to plan. It felt like we’d done the work ahead of time, we were prepared for it, and the work paid off.

In many ways, then, I sort of assumed this new semester would be easier than the two that preceded it. We all had experience handling all of this, after all. How much worse could it be?

Well, I didn’t anticipate the way COVID continually warps the norm. One big difference is that the presence of the disease in Maine is significantly above where it was in the fall. It’s been declining recently, but I think the huge uptick made many more students hesitant about coming back to in-person classes. (As with all things COVID, there’s a very wide range of ideas around what the best course of action should be. You’ve got everything from “no one should go anywhere ever again” to “nothing should be different at all.” And when you’re trying to bring all those differing opinions together in one place to reach the common goal of educating students, it can get tricky.)

I don’t feel as prepared as I did heading into fall. The whole day has felt kind of off to me, in an unsettling way that I didn’t anticipate. There are more students who want to be fully remote, which means there are more classes where you have to pay equal attention to the folks in Zoomland and the folks physically in front of you. There’s the uncertainty around how many cases might actually be on campus, as testing runs its course. There’s uncertainty around what our budget might be like, and what the future holds for education in general.

Basically, each time I think I’ll have more certainty X months from now, and each time X months rolls around, I discover I don’t, in fact, have more certainty. That’s frustrating, and it leaves me feeling off balance in general. All it takes is a few poorly timed events (like Denisa’s car running out of batteries. Twice.) for the day to feel like it’s spiraling out of control.

I know it’ll get better. I know I just need to push through things, but on days like today, I really look forward to being on the other side of them.

In any case, welcome back, Beavers. And good luck to all the rest of you out there, whatever your COVID experiences might be. Here’s hoping these vaccinations pick up quickly, and “normal” comes sooner than we think.

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