All We Have Is Each Other, Michelle Cruz Gonzales's Blog

Teaching College-Age Students Online with Compassion and Love in the Age of Covid-19

By Michelle Cruz Gonzales
March 28th, 2020

In the age (wholly crap, I hope it’s not an age) of Coronavirus,community college courses have had to transfer their face-to-face classes online. Many students had already been taking some of their courses online, but up until two weeks ago the majority of community college students took, and preferred, to take their college courses live, in person, face-to-face. Up until two weeks ago, the majority of community college professors had taught only in this face-to-face way.

I mostly teach in the Puente program (where I teach fresh comp and literature) and creative writing. Puente is a learning community focused on transfer (from a two year to a four year) of traditionally underrepresented students, mostly Latinx, but the program is open to anyone. Creative writing courses often morph into what feels like a learning community because most of the CW students know each other from other CW courses, and because they often follow a favorite CW teacher from course-to-course. Since I teach these two community oriented groups of students, I have decided to do most of my teaching synchronously at the same time our classes met when they were still face-to-face, and I will do this, mostly, using Zoom because my students have asked for normalcy, or as close to it as they can get while sheltered-in-place, working “essential” jobs, becoming unemployed, and doing all they can to remain healthy and to do their part to keep those around them healthy too. That said, I know that many of my students won’t have offices, desks, reliable internet, fast, new computers or in some cases even a room of their own, so given these circumstances, I have written a how-to-list of etiquette of my own just in case any college professors might be tempted to apply the recent New York Times suggestions to their virtual classrooms:

The Covid19 Global Pandemic Guide to Managing our Expectations about Finding Ourselves Unexpectedly Teaching and Learning in Online Spaces

We have found ourselves in what will mostly likely be one of the most significant and disruptive events of our collective lives. These circumstances require extremely sensitive and compassionate measures that should be quite different than what might be expected of virtual work-spaces inhabited by professionals still being paid a regular salary, those who can afford to have groceries delivered to their doorsteps, by quite possibly, the very same students for whom this guide was written.

  • Teachers rather than assuming that all students have up-to-date, functional equipment do privately survey your students to find out what equipment might be lacking and report this information to your college. There may be equipment that your institution can lend to students.
  • Students do mute your audio, duh, because your teacher will likely just be learning how Zoom works, might not know how everything works, and you all are likely more comfortable with these platforms than she is.
  • Teachers in these anxious times (why do you think we all needed therapy dogs even before the outbreak) don’t discourage students from having their pets in the room with them during class. A therapy dog would have helped me through the US/Soviet arms race and constant worry that the US and Russia would start a nuclear war.
  • Students seeing your pet might brighten all of our days a bit.
  • Teachers I really doubt your students are going to show up to “class” in a bathrobe, but if they do just be glad they made it all. You don’t know what’s going on in their house or if this student just got back from working in one of the essential industries, or if someone in their house is taking too long in the bathroom.
  • Students your teacher shouldn’t care if you’re attending “class” from your bed, or with messy hair, or with a curious sibling at your side. And I don’t mind if your parents want to look at the screen and say, “hi.”
  • Students, the NY Times articles says that people in Zoom meetings need to remember to pay attention; duh, you know you’re supposed to pay attention, especially in class.
  • Teachers be prepared, be interesting. Minimize dithering around looking for documents that you could have loaded into your browser.
  • Students be patient because this is overwhelming for us too.
  • Teachers If there were ever a time to drop the teacher personae, the in charge-we-have-it-all-together-all-the-time, authority figure facade, the time is now.
  • Teachers plan for your internet to be unstable at times and plan to have some of your students’ internet drop completely; video all lectures/meetings
  • Upload videos, with all necessary precautions, and post a summary of face-to-face meetings/classes on your campus LMS.
  • Students, most importantly when taking a synchronous class, if you lose connection, try to log back on once or twice.
  • If you’re unable to get back online after a couple of tries, do some other classwork, something calm like reading, or maybe a little research from your phone.
  • Do not stress out
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just use the time to sit down and take some deep breaths, especially if afterward your family is expecting you to ayuda en la casa
  • Later visit your class LMS page to view any class posted class notes and to watch the video
  • Email your instructor about anything that you missed that you still don’t understand.
  • Connect with a classmate online or via text to discuss some of the course concepts.

Whether we are meeting with our students synchronously or asynchronously our new online classrooms need to be, above all else, compassionate and safe spaces for our students, spaces where students feel appreciated for carrying on learning under such duress. This should also be a time for educators to marvel at this desire to learn in spite of school systems that can, for many, turn the desire to learn into something tenous. And perhaps it’s not the desire to learn that’s waned but the taint of points and grades, standardized testing, and ridiculous rules that make no sense, especially now — too much of an emphasis on external rewards and punishments and not enough on the act of learning for the good of us all.


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Michelle Cruz Gonzales played drums and wrote lyrics for three bands during the 1980s and 1990s: Bitch Fight, Spitboy, and Instant Girl. Her writing has been published in anthologies, literary journals, and Hip Mama magazine. Michelle teaches English and creative writing at Las Positas College, and lives with her husband, son, and their three Mexican dogs in Oakland, California.

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