March 23, 2020•516 words
The news relating to COVID-19 in the UK just doesn't stop, swirling and swirling about like some sort of never-ending spin cycle. It goes beyond the media coverage - NHS frontline staff being denied tests and then displaying symptoms, Tube station closures, fiscal and monetary stimulus (but too little in the former's case), the question of a universal basic income, the potential for a harder London lockdown (and finally, a long overdue announcement on that today for the entire country). It comes at work, where we have a daily COVID news bulletin focusing on campus-related issues, the ongoing efforts to continue teaching (online) and providing support for students for whome the year has been suddenly and unimaginably interrupted. Stock markets are down to levels we haven't seen in years. We're definitely in a recession (and I feel a bit bad for accurately predicting this one, because I didn't call 'pandemic' as the cause).
Taken in that context, everything seems daunting and anxiety-inducing. But taken from another point of view, things aren't so bad at all. I don't have to go into work physically, which means I can offer a wider range of office hours, even if students don't take me up on that. I get to stay home every day instead of manufacturing excuses to not go into work, although coming off a long cold does make it a bit harder to see that as a positive. But as part of the lockdown, we get to visit Kim's mom to make sure she's healthy and behaving. The change of scenery is welcome, and fortunately, her dad is already back in Singapore, getting his own version of quarantine, in what is hopefully a healthier environment. Taking him to the airport, I couldn't imagine how (predominantly white) Londoners interpreted the less stringent lockdown calls: go to the park and mingle with everyone else in sight. In retrospect, that shouldn't have been so shocking, even after I'd already pretty much been self-isolating for most of two weeks; after all, this is the same country that blithely ignored the experts on Brexit, so why wouldn't they ignore experts on a pandemic and public-health crisis?
Working from home so far has been far more intense than when I go to campus to teach. Lectures need to be updated and recorded, meaning prep takes three times as long, while seminars have to be adjusted for interactive online delivery, which still comes across as more awkward than anything else. On top of this, office hours are done online, and dissertation supervisions are being mandated at the same time. My students themselves generally seem unable or unwilling to figure out the new technological platforms without handholding, and dissertation students are mostly incapable of distinguishing their half-hour meetings from my much shorter office-hour appointments (they're on the same page!).
Once teaching is done for the term, I expect things to improve. I'll still have about half of my dissertation students to meet in April, and will be holding (fewer) office hours, but that will leave time for research and other things with less immediate deadlines.