By Doug Ward
As we near the halfway point of what we hope will be the final semester of remote everything, we at CTE encourage you to take a collective breath, put your feet up, and read an important news story you might have missed.
We can’t guarantee a happy ending. Then again, that all depends on what you consider happy.
Consider it the week that might have been.
LAWRENCE, Kan. (Coronavirus News Service) – Thousands of bleary-eyed students and frazzled faculty members staggered through the University of Kansas campus this week in a desperate search for spring break. For most, the search ended blissfully in unscheduled naps.
It was estimated to be the largest socially distanced gathering in this once-vibrant college town since the physics department hosted the Oppenheimer Memorial Baked Bean Blastoff in 1968. Masks were mandatory at that event, too.
Students dressed in flip-flops and neon yellow Give Me a Break! T-shirts crawled through bushes, wandered in circles around Wescoe Beach, and waded into Potter Lake looking for anything that resembled a break. Several dozen freshmen hopped on one foot and held open plastic shopping bags beneath trees in Marvin Grove, emulating a viral TikTok video that demonstrated “the proper method of catching a break.” The students said they had never actually seen a spring break, though, and admitted that they wouldn’t know one even if it fell into their bags.
At Watson and Anschutz Libraries, librarians dragging beach towels and wearing We Brake for Break masks scoured the stacks. Faculty members spent hours squinting into tea-stained mugs for clues. One distraught professor was found wrapped in paper towels in a Budig Hall rest room, sobbing something that sounded like “Rosebud.” Only the anthropology faculty seemed to understand the significance of the strange occurrences. One professor proclaimed it “the greatest day since Goodall picked up a pair of binoculars, or maybe since Geertz tried to nail jelly to a wall.”
Mass napping and an emergency task force
At the corner of Crescent Road and Naismith Drive, employees of McLain’s Market handed out Break Break Breakety Break Survival Kits, which were really gallon buckets of industrial-strength coffee beans and instructions that read: “Stuff as many beans into mouth as possible. Don’t try to talk. Just think happy thoughts.”
On the other side of campus, students rubbed fake beach sand into their hair and twirled tiny umbrellas between their fingers as they staked out socially distanced plots on the lawn near Watson Library, propped themselves up along the foundation of Fraser Hall, and took seats inside a tent outside Stauffer-Flint Hall. The muted stimulation proved overpowering, and most resorted to napping wherever they could find a spot.
When asked whether anyone had found spring break, most students just gave confused stares and nodded off. One student who seemed to have been appointed the group’s media representative issued a terse statement:
In a press release, the interim assistant sub-vice chancellor for calendar efficiency said that all available employees in that one-person office were “diligently searching for spring break.”
“I think we canceled break, but I’m not sure,” the interim assistant sub-vice chancellor said. “We were all really tired when we talked about that last year, and everybody just wanted to get off Zoom. Whatever we did seemed like a good idea at the time.”
An emergency task force has been formed to study the problem.
The Center for Teaching Excellence responded to the crisis by sending out suggestions to beleaguered instructors. Among them were:
Allow catch-up time. Jennifer Delgado in physics created a “spring pause” for her classes, holding off on new assignments and allowing students to catch up on previous work. Lisa McLendon in journalism and mass communications did something similar, creating a “catch-up week” in her classes. Those seemingly small actions can offer students some temporary relief and buoy spirits.
Create lighthearted activities. Things like learning games, a question of the day, and self-care activities can help pull students from a midterm slumber and give classes a fresh focus. Also consider activities like scavenger hunts, which give students an opportunity to get away from their screens. CTE’s Flexible Teaching Guide offers many other suggestions.
Acknowledge the challenges. Let students know that you understand the challenges that a year of social distancing and mostly remote learning have created. Encourage them to take some time for themselves, give them permission to nap (when they aren’t in class), and find ways to help them interact. For instance, create random breakout rooms on Zoom or take a few minutes in class and encourage students to share what they wish they could be doing if they had an actual spring break. (Dreaming is a good thing.)
Take care of yourself. Students pick up on your moods. If you are sluggish and cranky, your students will be, too. So give yourself permission to get away you’re your computer. Visit the Spencer Museum of Art. Talk a walk through downtown Lawrence. Explore a part of campus you haven’t seen in a while. Visit the Baker Wetlands. Or just stroll through your neighborhood and look for signs of spring. Any of those things can lighten your mood and help make class go more smoothly for everyone.
When will break return?
Spring break is expected to return next year, although the interim assistant sub-vice chancellor for calendar efficiency said departments and schools had been asked to plan for three contingencies: Breaks that would last either 1 day; 1 hour, or 5 minutes.
When told that a five-minute spring break seemed ludicrous, the interim assistant sub-vice chancellor shrugged and said:
“We prefer to think of it as an abbreviated policy option necessitated by the constraints of time. You can call it whatever you want.”
(Note: This article does not reflect the views of KU, CTE, KU Libraries, the physics department, the anthropology department, McLain’s Market, the Office of the Interim Assistant Sub-Vice Chancellor for Calendar Efficiency, or anyone else you can think of. As far as we know, it’s not even true – except for the part about everyone missing spring break. Zzzzzz.)
Doug Ward is the associate director of the Center for Teaching Excellence and an associate professor of journalism and mass communications. You can follow him on Twitter @kuediting.