“I’m Normally Quite Responsible, But...”

Stemming COVID's toll on motivation.

Posted Jun 24, 2020

 Ricarda Molck/Pixabay
Source: Ricarda Molck/Pixabay

Recently, I posted a composite letter from a “person” who had always lacked motivation.

The following composite letter describes a person who has always been quite motivated, but the COVID-19 restrictions have taken a toll.

Dear Dr. Nemko,

I’m a university professor. I'm tenured, so my job is secure. But now that the school year is over, in looking back, I have to say that I’m not proud of myself. Being able to teach from home, somehow, I've felt less motivated to prepare for my classes and to give assignments other than multiple-choice tests, which I know aren't good, but I couldn't make myself face reading class sets of essays.

If I were my usual responsible self, I should want to go back to in-school teaching. But when my university sent us a survey asking if we want to return to in-person teaching in the fall, like 65 percent of K-12 teachers nationwide, I wrote no, and in response to the next question, which asked why, I lied. The truth is that I enjoy working less, but I wrote, “To avoid spreading COVID."

Our chancellor now says that the university will probably open in the fall using a hybrid format: partly in-person, part remote, but if a second wave of COVID comes, it will be 100 percent remote. I fear I won't work hard enough when teaching remotely, but deep down, I really don’t want to be a slug. Any advice?

My response:

You’ve said you've been responsible previously, and university professors have to be hard workers to get a doctorate and to become a professor. So, rather than being a “slug,” is it possible that at least part of the problem is that you haven’t been well-enough trained in the art of teaching remotely? Perhaps your university will provide training this summer, but even if not, might you want to explore some resources on remote teaching? For example, Dartmouth has posted this on best practices for remote teaching.

To keep you accountable, might you want to ask a trusted colleague or even an administrator if s/he would email or phone you at the end of each class session asking you how it went? Of course, you could dissemble, but perhaps, keeping in mind that you do want your students to get a good education, you’ll make yourself report honestly. That way, for fear of giving your “supervisor” a bad report on yourself, might you work more diligently?

More foundationally, if you fear you'll be less helpful than is wise, do you need to keep reminding yourself that the life well-led is significantly about contribution? On your deathbed, would you feel better about how you lived your life if, even when teaching remotely, you tried to be as good a teacher as the best one you had when you were a student?

I read this aloud on YouTube.