By Brooke Greene
Staff writer

One of the most challenging and unusual academic years of all embraced us unexpectedly, without a warning, what we saw to be normal was flipped upside down. This impacted daily lives drastically, but it also took a great toll on students, parents and instructors.

While the attention has mostly been wavering around students and their life changes, it seems not enough thought has gone to the college professors and teachers that have also had to adapt their teaching styles to suit this learning environment. Whether switched to hybrid, online, or adhered to face-to-face learning styles, our teachers have struggled immensely to hold some sense of normality together for their students.

Seeking differing points of views, Hutchinson Community College’s Christopher Lau, Coordinator of Advising, Career Development, and Counseling Services, and Mark Nolen, Biological Sciences Instructor, have offered up their feelings regarding instructor mental health on campus.

“I must remain optimistic, and help students see that this season in their lives is just that – a season. I’m hopeful that since I have a few more years of experience I can help them see that although some things may change permanently – like will we shake hands again? – we will get past this part of the pandemic,” Lau said.

The concept of ever being able to drop that imaginary six-foot pole between oneself and another may be up for debate in the years to come, people may be bumping elbows for the rest of their lives with the altercation that it is the new social standard for greeting another.

“I hope that my students are not missing out on some big part of the college experience by the restrictions of Covid-19,” Nolen said. “I respect them for coming to class and wearing masks and working hard in spite of the challenges. Honestly, I wonder if Covid-19 makes some of my students take their classes more seriously than they would otherwise. If you have to wear a mask and social-distance and you still are willing to come, college must be important to take seriously. I do wonder what sorts of personal challenges my students have had to deal with during this period, but I don’t usually get the chance to discuss that kind of thing. We sort of carry on, using the normalcy of the classwork and material to provide a path through the uncertainty.”

With a strong point, it is fair to assume that the solid responsibility of education has kept students and faculty alike going without heads held high and eyes set on the bright future to come. With the lack of a spring break, instructors and students alike are feeling the pressure as the end of the school year nears.

“In fall 2020, we had more students needing to miss class because of quarantine and that required a lot more work than usual – making up labs and such,” Nolen said. “That’s why I recorded the labs when needed this semester and have people do the quizzes online if they have an excused absence. Spring of 2020 when we went online was extremely time-consuming as I had to put all of my lab and lecture material online (for general biology, biology 2, and radiation biology).

“Thinking back on that, this year fall 2020/spring 2021 has been much more smooth sailing. In the beginning of fall 2020, I was very concerned about whether or not I would personally get sick with Covid-19. I’m Type 1 diabetic, as is my girlfriend, and there is evidence that Type-1 diabetics are at higher risk of severe illness if they get sick. But, I was required to teach face-to-face and I’m just lucky that I did not get sick. Actually, I think that it’s because I wore a mask and was very careful about social distancing in all aspects of my life. Most of my students have also been very good about wearing masks, but sometimes I have to remind a few people about why it’s important.”

The mask mandate has been lifted in Reno County, yet those on campus are still expected to wear them. All eyes are now set on summer, where the days will be spent outside in the sun and at the pool instead of masked up in one of the stuffy old classrooms of Lockman Hall. The instructors are just as ready for it as the students.

“I am ready for the summer, and I’m sure I’m not alone,” Lau said. “We have time set aside for a family vacation, but are unsure what we will do as it will largely depend on vaccination status and the state of our destination at that point in time.”

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