The end of the school year is always an important milestone, and as the spring semester ends, it is normal to reflect on the year gone by. For students and faculty alike, each semester finished is another step towards academic and professional goals. Some students may be rejoicing as they celebrate their hard-earned graduation, while other students may be just getting started as they mark the end of their very first year. Still others may be getting ready to start all over again during the summer semesters. As a faculty member, my annual spring ritual involves reviewing which aspects of my teaching were most successful and making plans for what I would like to improve for the next time around.
This spring semester is especially worthy of celebration because we mark our first full year back to in-person learning since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The motto of Temple University is "Perseverance Conquers" and indeed we did persevere as teachers and students as we adjusted to the new reality of the online classroom. Although admittedly it was convenient being able to teach in my pajama pants, I think most would agree that the Zoom classroom lacks the dynamic atmosphere of in-person classes.
The return to in-person instruction this year had its own challenges, including the adjustment to teaching in a mask. For one, it quite literally makes it harder to teach. With less oxygen flow, I was suddenly aware of my need to slow down to catch my breath from time to time. If anything, it taught me to be more mindful of how to pace my lectures and to use words more efficiently. Masks in the classroom were also an obstacle to students, as masks can hamper class discussions and student presentations.
Despite the oddities of teaching a classroom of half-faces, being back in the classroom was a long-awaited homecoming for me. I bring energy and enthusiasm to my teaching, and I see teaching as most fun when the classroom serves as both a place of learning and place to energize students through showing a deep enthusiasm for psychology. What I love most about teaching is being able to share my love of learning with my students, and to inspire them to fly further and higher. It is simply much more enjoyable to share that excitement in person when I can run around and excitedly scribble on a dry erase board, instead of talking loudly into a webcam.
Although I was so happy to be back in the classroom, what I missed most this year was the ability to see the faces of my students. Although you can often tell what someone may be thinking or feeling from the look in their eyes, living in a world of masked faces has been a stark reminder of how we as human beings recognize faces in a holistic manner. Some of the oddest moments of the year for me, and perhaps for you as well, were the times I saw someone's full face after only knowing them in a mask. It is funny how you can feel so familiar with the top half of someone's face, only to find them unrecognizable once you suddenly see their face as a whole.
It is fitting that the end the school year traditionally comes at start of summer. As we move from clouds and rain, we welcome living green colors and bright sunshine. While COVID-19 has been a cloud over all our lives for the past two years, we have continued to persevere and push forward towards the light. Congratulations to all our graduating seniors. I hope that your time at Temple University nourished your roots and helped you grow towards your goals. And to all the students returning in the fall, I look forward to seeing your faces again. Here's hoping that the next time around, we all get to see each other as a whole.