The ups and downs of remote teaching

By Tana Hare |

0500 – I’m up. No alarm required. Even though bedside practice is behind me, the habit of rising early followed me to the classroom. Before COVID-19, the opportunity to have a couple hours of work without interruption allowed me to be available to students when they arrived. Being up early is still helpful since teaching remotely seems to entail hours of phone calls, emails, texts, and faculty meetings once the clock strikes 0900.  

0545 – With coffee in hand, I mentally gear up to open emails. Like so many others, there are tasks I find challenging now that I’m teaching from home. Even the simple act of checking my inbox is somewhat anxiety-provoking. When the COVID-19 pandemic is over, changing the sound associated with incoming messages will be a priority item! (Note to self: Research how to do this.) 

0630 – Emails weren’t bad. Thankfully no student crises. Half a dozen “how do I” or “where do I find” type messages, an update on content resources from one of our publishers, a planning message for our next set of lectures in our Practical Nursing Medical-Surgical course, and the ongoing discussion with my coworkers about test security now that we’re testing online. All answered. I can start the day from a clean slate. Next up: Get ready and head for the “office.” 

0700 – “Breakfast” turned out to be a third cup of coffee. Nurses really need to get better at self-care. I’ve donned my office attire, which consists of clean sweatpants, a favorite baseball shirt, and the ever-present don’t-know-what-to-do-with-my-hair ponytail. Unlike so many of my peers who are also homeschooling children, it’s just me and my husband, George, at home. Still, finding focus and quiet is difficult. As a solution, George has created a desk space for me in the new bedroom he’s building. I have to maneuver around some sawhorses, but it’s the perfect spot to record lectures without interruption. We’re in a rural area, and I teach at a small college, but we’re fortunate to have the tools we need to allow for learning to continue by putting lectures online. Up today is two hours of content on Dysrhythmias. This is one of my favorite subjects to explore with students, but I find myself missing our group and wishing I were in the classroom with them. After a couple re-records of segments I didn’t particularly care for, I am satisfied with the effort and begin the process of uploading the lecture to our learning management platform. It’s almost 1000, so I grab my lecture notes and laptop and head back downstairs to check back in on the world. 

1000 – Time for a quick break. Yogurt and a call to my mom who lives at home in Canada. We chat for 15 minutes. She’s alone, and while healthy, has a couple of risk factors that would predispose her to COVID-19, so our daily calls span more than updates on what my brother is doing (he’s an essential worker in Toronto) and encompass discussion on staying safe, getting groceries, and how to make a mask out of a cloth napkin. While we’re talking, I put a few pieces in the puzzle we have on the kitchen table. It’s the perfect activity to de-stress. 

1020 – Well, since declaring my emails resolved at 0630, I have been the lucky recipient of 26 new messages. I’ve also missed a dozen texts in the group chat I have with my coworkers. No phone calls though, so that’s a bonus. Quick triage of received emails shows three that are read-only—no action required. I was definitely hoping for a few more of those.

1230 – I’ve been down the email rabbit hole where one thing leads to another and another, and I can’t believe it’s 1230 already. The phone rings, and it’s a co-worker who teaches the same courses I do on another campus. We talk a bit about school and about how she’s balancing work and homeschooling her kids. These are big challenges, and I am in awe of nurses who are doing it all. It also brings to the forefront some feelings of guilt; I know helping prepare student nurses to enter the workforce is important to the healthcare system, but part of me thinks I should be standing at the bedside instead. We bring the conversation back around to work and sign off until we “see” each other at this afternoon’s faculty meeting. 

1300 – Lunchtime. I take a few minutes to pop some dinner in the slow cooker and throw it on high. I grab a salad and diet soda and go check out what dear husband is up to. This is a significant and pleasant departure from on-campus days where lunch was always eaten at my desk while students were practicing skills (my office = the nursing lab) or studying. Now lunch is an opportunity to step away and actually have a change of focus. But these days I frequently find myself wondering and worrying about friends and graduates working on the frontlines, and although we’re in a relatively isolated area, we’re not without COVID-19 cases and deaths. I spend a few minutes standing in the sunshine, listening to the birds, and just breathing. 

1415 – I quickly review the minutes from last Wednesday’s meeting, scan the agenda, and realize I’m scheduled to take minutes today. Good times. Really glad I checked. 

1430 – The technology gods have smiled on us, and we are all present and audible. Faculty meetings these days are no less intense; in fact, they may be more so as we’re finding ourselves in unfamiliar territory multiple times on any given day. So far though we’re managing. This is what nurses do, right? Not sure how to get a particular job or task accomplished? Assign it to the nurse. 

1540 – Meeting over, minutes completed in real-time and emailed to the boss—one less thing on the list. I take a minute to check emails and respond. I still have papers to mark and had intended to record a video message to my students. Hmmm. I move the video to first thing tomorrow and decide that I can probably mark six or eight essays between now and dinnertime. A definite positive that has come from this pandemic is our expanded use of computerized submission and feedback. Love being able to click and make comments and zip an assignment back to a student without ever having to touch a piece of paper. But before I start grading, a few minutes at the puzzle. 

1655 – Only have two more papers to mark. Reading their work, I can hear their voices clearly, and it makes me smile. I wonder if the students realize how much they bring to our lives. 

1715 – We have dinner while watching the news, then I flip through Facebook on my tablet. There are so many of our former students sharing their experiences of working with COVID-19 patients. I type more “stay safe,” and “be well,” and “so proud of the work you’re doing” messages than I can count. One last email check; nothing urgent. I can put that away until tomorrow. It’s ironic to me that in this “Year of the Nurse” our profession is being challenged in a way most generations have not experienced. What I do know though is that each nurse and that nurse’s efforts are important and impactful, and that we are resilient and resourceful enough to get our individual jobs done and weather this pandemic. 

2000 – Last thought of the day: Stay safe and be well out there, friends. They’re counting on us. 

Tana Hare, MSN, RN, is an Assistant Professor Nursing at North Country Community College in Saranac Lake, New York, USA. She is a member of Sigma’s Omicron Delta Chapter at the University of Phoenix.

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