Supporting Adult Students during the Covid-19 Crisis

I teach both at a university and at an online code school. My university classes have been in person until this term when the Covid-19 pandemic shut us all in. I’ve tried to keep a very open dialog with my students about how they are feeling and what personal struggles they are having as well as filling them in on how I’m doing and what I’m dealing with. My philosophy is, saying these things out loud helps us all in so many ways. Here are a few…

Giving your struggles a name:

  • Lets others know they aren’t alone
  • Makes your struggles less scary and normalizes them in a way that makes them easier to deal with.
  • Acknowledges that what you are feeling or going through is tough
  • Trying to ignore your stress just makes it grow into a monster

Students have shared that they are confused by how hard it’s been to concentrate, even though they should have more time to do school work, they seem to have less time, or they just can’t focus enough to get anything done.

Many students have had to change residences, move in with family members, or help friends and relatives with moving or finding sources of food or income.

Many are struggling with worsening mental health issues or learning disabilities, especially anxiety and depression disorders and ADD/ADHD.

The shift from being out in the world, with others, in classrooms, working collaboratively to working almost entirely in isolation has been harder than many had considered.

These issues are happening for my online code school students as well, even though they were used to working remotely on their school work, their lives have shifted around them in ways that make it harder — more people at home, loss of income and therefore increased stress, panicky feelings about the future and feeling like they need to study harder, and distraction from the stress of news, worrying about family and friends, and the unknowns about the future.

I presented this slideshow to the educators at my code school to help them help their students. I gave a talk on what I was seeing and offered suggestions for helping students (and themselves).

The gist of it?

Acknowledge that we aren’t just asking students to switch from in-classroom learning to online learning, we are asking them to do it in the middle of a very serious global crisis with people getting incredibly sick and dying.

Acknowledge that everyone is feeling the stress of this differently, and that all of it is valid and should be honored and respected. We all have our separate experiences of this crazy situation. We need to make room for other people’s experiences and not be judgmental.

Give your students more space and more options. Give them extra assignments so they can pick and choose to match their current abilities. Mix up the choices, make some more manual, some more visual, some involving expressive writing, some involving building things.

If at all possible, allow your students to create projects that feel like they are helping with the covid-19 crisis instead of just consuming stressful media/news. Give them opportunities to be positive producers instead of feeling like powerless witnesses/consumers.

Thank you for reading! Just by reading this shows me that you care about your students and that’s the very best thing you can do right now. Hang in there! Be kind to yourself! We’ve got this!

Alanna Risse is an instructor, web developer, and artist living in Portland, Oregon.