Edu-Labor in a crisis

Journalists, political leaders, and medical experts are struggling to wrap their collective brain power around the consequences of one microscopic virus for humanity and the planet. This is just the kind of scale switching and global analysis that world historians are good at. Right now, though, most of us have little time for such lofty thoughts. Many WHA members are instead grappling with the more mundane, quotidian issues: what’s my new login for Zoom/Panopto/Yuja? How much of my syllabus can I cut and still feel like I’m giving my students something worthwhile? What modifications can make my history classes relevant for the global event we’re all living through? How many marbles can my child stuff up her nose while I record a 15-minute lecture segment? How will I get through to the end of the academic year and stay sane?

We launched Pandem-mondus with just such practical, presently-oriented (but historically informed!) questions in mind, focused on teaching during the first week when high school and college faculty across the US confronted the reality of a dramatic change to their work schedules and teaching practices—with inadequate preparation time. Even as we live in the moment, attentive to immediate problem solving, there’s a lurking worry for all of us, who are after all employees. How will my work be evaluated this spring, and what does this mean for my long-term prospects in my current job?

First, I want to acknowledge how privileged we all are to have jobs that translate, however awkwardly, into remote arrangements. We’re all still earning paychecks this spring, unlike workers in so many industries that have been shuttered. This opportunity to work is one most of us surely want to keep, though, so we’d be short-sighted not to ask questions about performance evaluations and opportunities for advancement while working through a period of crisis.

Our colleagues at the American Sociological Association have admirably taken the lead here, issuing a  powerful statement today calling on higher ed institutions to provide comfort and clarity to faculty about how this upheaval will affect evaluations of our work.  To summarize the main points: 

  1. Don’t count teaching evaluations from this term in faculty appraisals 
  2. Allow an extra year on the tenure clock because everyone’s teaching, research, child-care and other domestic responsibilities were upended 
  3. Communicate these changes clearly to faculty 

Although the ASA’s statement addresses college faculty, there are similar issues at stake for high school teachers, especially those with AP classes—where students’ scores are already unfairly used as a metric of teacher performance in many districts. Spring 2020 isn’t business as usual for anyone. Our metrics of evaluation shouldn’t be the same, either. 

What’s happening on your campus, or in your school district?

How are your colleagues, administrators, or unions addressing this issue. We’d love to read about your experiences in the comments. If you’d like to write a post for Pandem-mondus, please email me.

By Laura J. Mitchell, WHA President