Posted by: patriciamar | June 23, 2020

Waiting for a Normal Education

This spring, along with a global pandemic came a tiny bit more free time for me (study abroad numbers are down, clearly), so a former colleague and I decided to start a podcast!


My ESL Qs is a podcast about learning and teaching English as a second language.  Recently on MyESLQs, as we often do, we answered some student questions.  The topic of the week was related to coronavirus, and the student question was, If online classes really do continue into 2021, what should I do?  I don’t know if I want to do my entire degree online.  In our podcast, Teresa and I discuss this question, and I hope you take a listen!  But I am also going to go ahead and share my thoughts here because this issue is so close to my life, career, and heart that I can’t help doing so. 

Q: If online classes really do continue into 2021, what should I do?  I don’t know if I want to do my entire degree online. 

This is an excellent question, and I think that a lot of people around the world are pondering it as well.

  • This was not in my plans.
  • How will I gain hands-on experience without labs?
  • I’m not good at online classes.  It’s too hard to focus.
  • I need to meet my professors face-to-face.
  • I am not getting life experience when I am living in my parents’ basement taking classes on Zoom.
  • I want a “normal education.”

Unfortunately, for the moment, this is your new normal, which means the question is not Should I take online classes next year?  The question is Will you continue living your life next year?  

If the top schools in this country and around the world are entirely online because it is unsafe for you be in a classroom, then that is your new normal.  This is your college experience, just like someone else’s was the Vietnam War and someone else’s was during a financial crisis, and someone else’s was segregated by gender or race, and someone else’s was before the internet.

Think of it this way, you’re special!  If you play your cards right, you can avoid paying rent the first year of college, spend time with your family, take extra classes during your free time (free on MOOCs!), make dinner with your little sister, spend Saturday afternoons having “Watch Parties” with your friends (They are free, too!), plant a garden, sew masks for your local hospital, build a house for your childhood pet, learn more about statistical representations for a global pandemic than you ever thought possible, learn all the names of the trees outside your kitchen window, write a story, wear pajamas every day for a month, or even start your own blog or podcast!

When I was in high school, my high school Spanish club was busy fundraising for a trip to Spain when 9/11 happened.  Our parents, many of our teachers, and our small-town school board all immediately pushed to cancel the trip.  This was my first trip in a 747 and my first trip across the ocean.  I was not going to quietly stay home.  Students organized, pushed, and wrote letters to the school board.  We went to Spain the next summer, and that experience, as I thought it might, changed me forever.

In a lot of ways the Covid19 situation is very different, but in some ways it is quite similar. With Covid19, the risk is known; the consequence of exposure has a name and is paired with medical equipment and side effects.  You know that you need to stay home.  After 9/11, the risk was the unknown.  My fear was that if I put my plans on hold then, they would be put on hold indefinitely.

The point is, your life is now. Four months ago, what were your educational plans for this summer or for next year?  If you don’t go through with that degree program, simply because it’s online, then when are you going to do it?

Earlier this year, if you were thinking about doing something, but were hesitant because of X, Y, Z, then maybe now isn’t the right time. I say that because if X, Y, and Z were true, then maybe this wasn’t the right time in the first place.  Don’t force something that didn’t feel right.

On the other hand, if you had every intention of doing something, but a global pandemic happened, and it is going to make life more challenging, complicated or just different, then do it.  You were going to do it.  Why would a global event that is out of your control change your mind?  If your health is at risk, or if you are putting others at risk, then it’s a different story.   But if you keep stepping forward and find your way through this complicated new normal we are living, then I can almost guarantee that you will come out the other end stronger and more resilient than if you hadn’t.

In my UC Davis department, CPE-I, we were told that all classes would be going online.  This is an ESL department that hosts students from around the globe.  We are a communicative language program.  This was a sudden turn from our normal, and there were a few teachers that are pretty old school in their teaching methods.  I was nervous for them, to be perfectly honest.  We don’t use chalkboards, but we use a lot of whiteboard markers of different colors, poster paper and stand-up/sit-down/move-around classroom activities.  When confronted with online classes, how many of these teachers pushed back and said, “No, we can’t do it”?

None, of course.

I’d like to say it is because teachers know that education is essential and moving forward has to be the answer.  We cannot go backwards and we cannot stand still.

But I think the fact that every single teacher dug in their heels and logged in to online workshops, watched tutorials, played with new apps, experimented with online textbooks, and then succeeded in creating a communicative classroom environment online for their students, actually showed how resilient they all are.  If they had pushed back, their skillset wouldn’t have suffered.  They would still have all the experience that they already had.  But after this quarter (and this summer, and possibly this fall, and however long it takes to find out what our next new normal will be), they will be stronger, smarter, and more well-prepared for whatever is next.

So students, take the leap and go ahead with your educational plan.  Whatever it is that you think you wanted to do next year, don’t be afraid of trying to accomplish it.  Go in running and see what you can make of it.  We, your teachers, believe in your future success.


  1. Hi Patricia – great blog post! Are you going to share it on Facebook? I’d like to share it for other teachers and for high school seniors!

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great idea you and Teresa have, but even more, what great insight and skill you both bring! I wish you lots of fun, lots of followers, and much success in whatever path the field takes you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Gina! It has been enjoyable and invigorating so far!


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