Sharing Our Stories: Alumnae Stories from the Pandemic

jenniferansbachJennifer Ansbach ’93 is a staunch supporter of the AADC and its mission. She has taught high school in Manchester Township, NJ, for 13 years and currently is in the PhD program in American Studies at Rutgers University Graduate School – Newark, where she also serves as a teaching assistant. Here is her story, shared on May 22, 2020:

More than two months into the lockdown, I barely recognize my life anymore. As a high school teacher, my school day started early – teacher sign-in is before 7 a.m. – and I spent most of the day there, leaving right from school to drive the 75 miles to Newark twice a week for classes for my PhD. I would get home close to 10 p.m., waking up about 5 the next morning.

Now, my day starts closer to 6 a.m. Depending on what my students are working on, I may be logged in before I even sit down to breakfast, leaving feedback and electronically returning assignments. I have online office hours from 8:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Before 8:15, I move to my living room by the window, where birdfeeders serve as a mental break and my dogs nap nearby.

I spend almost two hours a day reading through the living history journals my ninth-graders keep. They recap their days, reflect on the meaning of life, vent about problems large and small, and share the small moments that I miss hearing about in person. An uncle who died. A family of baby rabbits in the backyard. First seedlings in a new garden. Puppy adoptions. Ninth grade is always a big shift for young people, as they are challenged by becoming more independent, learning to follow directions and finding their own motivation to see themselves as learners.

The current situation overwhelms adults, but teens have the awareness of what is happening without the benefit of as much experience to contextualize what they see. They write about how they struggle to get out of bed. Many students’ sadness saturates their assignments. I refer those who may need to talk to someone to a counselor for follow-up.

After 12:15, I create and write out new assignments for the next week. In the classroom, I can post an outline on the whiteboard and answer questions, but online learning requires me to anticipate areas of confusion and write out instructions, often using detailed screenshots to help guide them but that aren’t so dense that they skip them.

My afternoons are spent finishing giving feedback on their reading and writing tasks, followed by emails, calls from administrators or IT staff, and working through student tasks.

I took nine credits this semester toward my coursework for my PhD in addition to being a TA, so I’ll work on that until dinner and then often stay up after my husband goes to sleep, finishing reading or writing. This semester, my on-campus class was a narrative history writing workshop, so I had to complete my own writing tasks and provide feedback on my classmates’ drafts.

For the last six weeks of class, we met via Webex for our seminars. For my independent study, I wrote a book chapter that was accepted for publication this semester. As soon as my work for the semester was submitted the last week of April, I needed to revise another article accepted for publication. In addition, I needed to conceptualize my comprehensive exams and draft my reading lists to send out to my committee for input. And then there’s the reading for the exams themselves that I’m working on. I completed my coursework this spring.

Sometimes I end my day early, wrapping up at 7 p.m. or so and then catching a Dateline or something from Netflix. Before bed, I read light fiction to help me relax. Working and learning from home means I need to draw a clear line between my work and studies and my home life, so I never bring anything for my job or my graduate work upstairs.

If I wanted to work by myself at a computer all day, I wouldn’t have chosen teaching. I miss being in the classroom with my students. I miss dropping into a colleague’s classroom to share how a lesson went. I miss chatting with my peers and professors at Rutgers. No one could have imagined that public education would look like this, but, like my colleagues across the country and around the world, I’m figuring out how to meet my students’ needs day by day. And in the meantime, I just keep checking the next thing off my list.

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