OPINION: Professors need to remain empathetic toward students


Eric Henry

Students walk around a mostly empty campus during the pandemic.

Online classes were once new and intriguing to most students –– until they never ended. The winter quarter is now approaching finals, and it has officially been almost a full year since students were told to leave for spring break and not return to campus. At first, it was exciting having an “extended spring break.” One school year has turned into another and campus remains a ghost town. A main attraction to going to school at DePaul is the campus and the perks of it being located in the heart of Chicago. Without access to that, the experience just isn’t the same. 

Online school has been ideal for some long before this pandemic occurred. Many believe that it is nice and easy to work classes into a busy schedule. However, many students prefer an on-campus, in-person experience, and have opposing feelings toward virtual classes. Going to school in the same place that you are confined to during the day and most, if not all night is not exactly motivating. Also, many classes do not even meet on Zoom, causing assignments to be much more confusing than necessary.  

In an asynchronous class of mine this quarter, a professor needed to send out an email to the entire class to clarify the requirements to an assignment because many students, according to him, “are not aware of the basic requirement of an assignment like this.” It is more likely that the directions have been unclear, than the majority of the class not being able to understand a “basic assignment.” 

Professors, especially those not meeting with their students via virtual lectures on Zoom, need to remember that times are tough and the last thing their students need is degradation when they are trying their best.  If you are a professor reading this and are now questioning how you have treated your students recently, read on to see how one outstanding professor is accommodating her students in ways that have proven helpful to both the students and professor and learn ways in which you can improve your online teaching experience this upcoming quarter.

  “I definitely feel less motivated than when I first started [online classes]. I’m starting to wake up in the morning and just stay in bed during class instead of getting up and going to my desk,” said Isabel Duncan-Huffman, a junior at DePaul. 

Griffin Gourguechon graduated from DePaul this past November and said that he is “definitely glad to be done.”  

“I was way less motivated for sure,” he said.  “It’s tough not being in that routine going to class and what not when I could just sit in bed and do class from there. I definitely felt like it was harder and I was less focused.” 

Many students responded in similar ways stating that they feel less motivated with an online learning experience. When asked if these students had any helpful professors who have been accommodating this past year many answered describing professors who were being understanding when it comes to assignments, due dates, and students’ access to technology and wifi, as well as being available for students to reach out and ask questions.

Connie Johnston, a DePaul professor in the Department of Geography, was recommended by her student Ruben Plaza for being very understanding and helpful during these challenging times. 

“The main things I’ve done are to be super flexible on extensions for written assignments, to make myself available for Zoom meetings [where we can talk about the course, pandemic stress, or anything else], to respond as promptly as I can to emails, and to leave quizzes open without a due date and to allow multiple attempts,” Johnston said.

Of all those things listed, Johnston said that she believes the most important one is being responsive. 

“I try very hard to maintain open lines of communication with my students,” she said. 

“There is a monotony to working in the same space for hours every day, which alone makes it difficult, but I believe most folks [not just students] benefit from those frequently spontaneous ‘brain breaks’ that happen, for example, when you stop to chat with a friend who passes you in the library. Just the physical act of getting up and walking to a different class or back down the street from grabbing lunch, I believe, lets us focus better when we get to that next class or back to our desk.” 

Students across the country are feeling the detrimental effects of not having the ability to move from one room to the next or leaving their home for class. An article from Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies shared that 65.9 percent of the 358 students surveyed agreed that “learning takes place better in physical classrooms than through online learning.” 

With the weather beginning to warm up, causing more distraction and stress from the pandemic still looming, it is important for everyone — faculty, staff and even students — to try their best to not add to the current troubles of life. Professors are human, too, and are likely struggling to stay sane during these hard times, as well. It is important to communicate in order for  everyone to do their best this upcoming quarter to finish the year out strong. 

As a senior who had her college experience cut short without warning, it would be nice to see universal acknowledgement that this experience is far from ideal and motivating. For many, this year is the end of their educational experience. For others, this year halted it, made it less desirable and more stressful. Online classes being hundreds of miles from campus is not everyone’s cup of tea. It is an acquired taste. Everyone is struggling right now with their own personal battles and there is no need to make things harder and more stressful than they need to be. 

Professors, please do not add to your student’s struggles, be the guiding light they need during these stressful times. 

Johnston is an example of one of the many outstanding instructors at DePaul who have gone out of their way to be helpful to their students throughout this pandemic, and hopefully other professors who maybe haven’t been as understanding can take a lesson or two from her teaching approach. 

While we all appreciate what every professor has done during this time, remember that the pandemic is still going on and will continue into next quarter. Consider your students and how they may be feeling during this – the circumstances have not gone away over time. 

The Vincentian question is, “What must be done?” The best answer that can be applied here is to be as understanding and considerate as possible.