Diantha Ellis is a professor of Business in the Stafford School of Business at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College
If there is one good thing that came from COVID-19, academics learned how resilient we truly are. As the virus swept around the world, faculty were reminded to band together in support of our students. Countless meetings and articles abounded, reminding us how students needed our empathetic support and understanding as they navigated the uncertainty of COVID-19’s impact on their academic success. Rising to the challenge, we rallied around our students and took advantage of new opportunities for student success.
But what about us? While faculty are in academia because we love making a positive difference in students’ future growth and development, we are only human. Faculty faced increased workloads as their classes transferred to online. Colleagues resigned for various reasons, leaving the load to fall on those who remained. The increased size of online classes limited faculty’s ability to interact effectively with their students. These factors and more have led to rising rates of academic burnout. When the passion for our work is fizzling, where do we turn to reignite the spark? Support for educators is available in many forms, and these are a few that I’ve learned to lean on.
Cengage All Access Faculty Community
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I answered the email to join the Cengage All Access Community. Was this going to be one of those sit-around-the-campfire type of deals where we all tell happy stories to lift each other up after sharing a boatload of gripes about what was wrong with the system? If so, no thank you!
Skeptically, I joined. I was pleasantly surprised. In the Cengage All Access Community, I found a valuable resource to assist me in further developing my online courses, helpful tips and tricks about teaching Economics, and virtual conferences and webinars with faculty across the nation sharing what worked and didn’t work for them through pandemic teaching.
I must take a moment here to give a huge shout out to fellow Faculty Partner, Professor Jenny Billings whose virtual conferences were a godsend to me in understanding how to navigate MindTap. Seriously! This woman is phenomenal and a master at making beautiful macaron pastries! I know that I cannot be the only person who has felt relief upon hearing her say: “I mean it, we are friends now! If you have questions, just call me.” I haven’t taken her up on it yet because her webinars are that good, but I know that if I am struggling with MindTap, then Jenny will pick up that phone and respond calmly to my panic.
Cengage Faculty Partners
I first discovered Faculty Partners when I responded to a request for authors within the All Access network. Interested, I applied. What I found was an invaluable network of faculty from around the nation in various disciplines and from multiple types of colleges and universities.
As a Faculty Partner, I can reach out and help other faculty who need assistance. This might involve one-on-one consultations or group presentations regarding textbook selection, integrating new LMS programs, or a simple “what works” session. And if you aren’t a Faculty Partner, no worries! You can request assistance from a Faculty Partner in your discipline, and the Cengage team will link you to the right resource.
Centers for Teaching and Learning
Even before the pandemic, Centers for Teaching and Learning (CTLs) were popping up at colleges and universities around the nation. These offer support for educators, including excellent resources for professional development opportunities right on site. Oftentimes we get so tied up in our own busy schedules that we silo ourselves from each other on campus. CTLs are a great way to keep us linked to the multiple resources available within reach on campus. From technology to library to assessment to student engagement to faculty research and a host of other important topics for the campus conversation, CTLs are among the most valuable support groups that faculty have right at their fingertips.
Colleagues, administrators, friends, and family
One of the most valuable connections we have is our network. This is another area where the pandemic took a toll on our lives. While working from home has many positive aspects to it, a major drawback is the reduction in social interaction. Sure, there are times that I feel as if I get so much more accomplished when I work from my home office than I do when fielding constant interruptions at my campus office. However, the downside to that is that my colleagues are not just one quick walk down the hall when I have an idea that I need to bounce off someone.
And let us not forget that our administrators are a valuable part of our network. I am forever grateful for the administrators who took a chance on me as a young faculty member and saw the potential that I had and nurtured it. They were and always will be a valuable part of my support system.
As a part of the “Friends” generation, it makes me smile when I see my students building connections with their friends. Because at the end of the day, friends are the ones who will be there when it “hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year.” Sometimes these friends are also close colleagues or administrators who recognize your special spark. Other times, those close friends also happen to be close family members. Then there are the friends who have become family. And let us not forget those extra special friends and family who have fur and walk on four legs. If you haven’t already, you must try out the best study buddy and smartest paper grading partner ever—the Border Collie! Best. Support. Ever.
Connecting with students
Ask any faculty member what they love best about their job. I guarantee they’ll tell you it’s the students! I cannot tell you how many times I have felt drained and exhausted with the myriad of different tasks in my “red alert” category. But then I walk into my classroom and start interacting with my students. They never fail to cheer me up on a stressful day. Whether it is a thoughtful conversation after class, a simple thank you that brightens your email box, a comment about an article you wrote that they have looked up and enjoyed, an update from them long after they have graduated and have just completed their first law school exams, or any other number of daily interactions that you may have with them, students can really make this career path worthwhile.
I love the moments when they pop into my office with a “have you got a minute?” or “I have news!” Honestly, each of these has a reward. The “have you got a minute?” may turn into thirty, leaving that report you need to turn in to the Provost waiting, but that’s okay. The “I have news!” always brightens your day because it usually relates to internship, job, graduate, or law school acceptances. And the fact that they are sharing with you, sometimes even before they share with mom and dad, reminds you why it is that you chose to pursue the academic path. We’re here for the students, and they’re here for us. We’re partners together in providing them with the opportunity to make their dreams a reality. In turn, they lift our spirits and brighten our days.
Everybody needs a village of supporters. And if you look around you, they are there cheering you on, challenging you, lifting you up, inspiring you. So, the next time you feel weighted down and need support, look around you. To paraphrase the famous quote from the perennial favorite “Love Actually,” support for educators “actually is all around.”
Burnout is a major risk for instructors. Download our eBook “How to Combat Burnout: A Guide for Instructors” to learn about why burnout happens and how you can avoid it.