Sara Wink, Purdue University Global Composition Faculty
I let out a mangled “Whamb?” through the apple pulp in my mouth as I wash dishes.
“Mommy mommy M-O-O-O-O-M-M-Y!”
I walk into the boys’ bedroom, still chewing, and raise my arms in a “WHAT?” gesture, sending suds and water all over the doorway. My twin toddlers are sitting around a little Chinook helicopter. One of the rotors has come off. Peter’s about to shriek another “MOMMY!” but Philip holds up the helicopter in time. “Fix it? Fix it, please?”
I do so. They squeal a stereo “YAY!” until Phil notices a smidgen of suds dripping down the side. “Mommy, can you clean it? Clean it?” He thrusts it at my soapy self. Peter adds with a sharp crescendo “Clean IT?”
When someone wants help, they want it now. Not later that week, or “when you can.” NOW.
Many of us teach people with lives already loaded with Needs In the Now: elderly relatives who need care; a job with wonky hours; babies with colic or tyrannical toddlers who no longer nap; shots just fired outside the perimeter and they need to bug out, NOW. Despite all this, they commit to school, for with the right education, their Needs in the Now will alter for the better, or at the very least lessen. So they take on more, while we teachers teach a course we (hopefully) know pretty well and can balance decently with our Needs In The Now.
We need to remember that the students’ balancing act is ever-changing in dramatic ways. They have to move to a new military base. They have a loved one in the hospital. They are working more hours but have no child care. Sure, we remind them it’s important to dedicate time every day to school. I ask for thirty minutes minimum. But when they put that time in could be at 2am, or 1:30pm, maybe just a few minutes at a time when they’re on break at work or the baby’s finally asleep in their lap. Their ability to get online is limited, so when they need help, they need it NOW.
Waiting 24 hours for a response from a teacher is not horrible, but honestly, I feel like we owe it to our students to get online more often to at least check for questions or concerns. We all know how many students don’t get work turned in until Tuesday evening. “Gah, they’re just procrastinating.” Yeah, I know that’s the case for some, but for others, life just hasn’t let them get to the work beforehand. Many of our students have a very limited control over their daily life’s schedule. We, who do have some more control over our schedules, owe it to them to be more available.
I make it a point to check my email two to four times a day: early morning, midday, late afternoon, and early evening. Now granted, I work from home with my three children scampering about (see the aforementioned helicopter repair). I can’t just go on my computer whenever I want, or this happens:
So I plan my access around times I know they’ll be a) asleep, or b) occupied with well-timed educational programming. This way, I’m at least checking if a student has a question; if a question is sent to me at 10am, they hear back from me in just two hours rather than eighteen.
Of course, I appreciate that some teachers cannot check school email at their job. Then, establishing a “Check-In Schedule” at the beginning of term can be helpful. I’ve done this, too. By telling students you always check your email during Hours A, B, and C, they at least know when help will come, and won’t start the bombardment of “I didn’t get my work done because you didn’t get back to me” messages.
A few extra minutes on our part can make a LOAD of difference to our students. All they want is a little guidance to help them complete that which we want them to do in order to complete the academic journey. We can do better than plop the map at their feet and jog away with a “Good luck!” We must keep pace with them, so that when they struggle with all those dots and lines on the page we can provide a helpful word and hand. Believe me: they will remember how fantastically helpful you are when they tell their friends about their Purdue University Global experience.
And they won’t give a toss about your soapy hands.