We weren’t ready for this to happen. We thought we were safe from the chaos we were watching unfold across the oceans. Our health care system is too amazing, our college is too prepared, we are not like these other countries, it can’t possibly happen to us. But then it happened. On Friday, March 13, 2020, it happened; the notice from our Acting President was sent out advising that all face-to-face courses would be moved online until further notice. Truth be told, I had always been a fan of Friday the 13th. Personally, the day seems to be more of a lucky day for me, but 2020 would prove to challenge that perspective. I have always been a glass-half-full kind of person, but how would I find the positive here? How would I quickly shift an entire second half of a semester to online only? To make matters more daunting, that following Monday another message would be conveyed, this time telling us all to begin working remotely as soon as possible, preferably leaving campus by noon. What a rollercoaster we were on!
We healthcare providers turned educators are resilient people though. We are used to changing and adapting based on our surroundings and the needs of our students or patients. This was just a new challenge we would need to face. So, we did what we do best, and we adapted. In a matter of a few short days, we provided updates for our clinical students, we built online lessons, we gathered supplies to donate to our hospital system, and we created a safe virtual learning environment. Is it perfect? No, undoubtedly, we are all still tweaking what we’ve created. The important thing is our students are learning, and their progress is uninterrupted at a time when everything is unknown. We can be the one thing that remains somewhat constant in a world that feels more chaotic than ever.
And that is just it – how can anything be a constant in a world that changes by the moment? In a matter of weeks, I went from a happy and productive healthcare educator making a difference at a small college in Concord, North Carolina, to a mother working from home while trying to homeschool small children and keep a house running. I am a single mother with two little girls who lives hundreds of miles from any family. I am working remotely full-time while trying to educate tomorrow’s healthcare providers. I am trying to keep up with committee work, various other work-related duties, and I am attending graduate school as well. But I am not unique. There are millions of people out there suddenly finding themselves with a world flipped upside down. There are millions of mothers who now have to juggle working from home while keeping children on track with their schoolwork and virtual class meetings. So how can I help become the constant in someone else’s life when my life is so chaotic? I am still figuring that out, but eight and a half years ago, when I stepped foot on that college campus as an educator, my life was changed. I have been and will remain entirely committed to my students.
My students are not small children. They are not dependent on others for their every need. They are adults capable of working, cooking, and caring for themselves and others. That does not mean they need support any less. I’m the college educator who lays awake at night wondering if my students will be able to juggle it all tomorrow. I lay awake at night wondering if they are safe, if they are well, and what chaos they are facing in their lives. While I’m concerned about their academic progress, I am equally concerned with their well-being. Higher education may be a business about educating people, but people are the focus. People are the priority. So for now, I will continue worrying about the well-being of my students and my colleagues before I worry about what these missed classes are going to do to the pass rates and average scores of my students.
Mahatma Gandhi is credited with saying, “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Start small if you must, with just five minutes a day to check on others. That may mean taking a quick trip to the pharmacy for your elderly neighbor, coloring with a 5-year-old so they don’t feel worried about the unusual times, or even just calling a relative to ask how they are. For us educators, it may be finding the opportunity in a day to forget about our own concerns and stress and check in on the emotional health of our students. It might mean letting go of some of the intense rigor, not to produce subpar graduates, but to serve the full needs of our students. It might mean having a Zoom call with a group of students, not to discuss work or grades but to discuss the weather, what they did that day, anything other than the stresses of their current daily lives. We are all grieving right now. Grieving the loss of our normal lives. The missed proms, missed graduations, cancelled vacations, months without family and friends, and the list goes on and on. We must all acknowledge that it’s okay to grieve these missed events and opportunities. It’s okay to feel like the world is crashing around us. But we can get through this if we do it together. We simply need to respect the trauma we are all facing, and the grief we are all handling in different ways and remind ourselves that this too shall pass.
Rachel Houston, BS, CMA(AAMA) is the Program Chair of the Medical Assistant Program at Cabarrus College of Health Sciences in Concord, North Carolina. She is currently completing her Master’s Degree in Psychology, with a focus on research in industrial/organizational psychology at Pennsylvania State University and will graduate in May 2020. She also completed undergraduate research in addiction counseling and family psychology. Rachel is the mother to two little girls and together in their free time, they enjoy sports, music, reading, and visiting family in Connecticut and Florida.