Making our Compassion Practical: Lessons Learned from A Year of Online Teaching by Love Suarez

This blog is part of Temple Beth El’s Elul Blog Project. Read more about this year’s project. 

I’m autistic and ADHD, with some nuisance-level chronic conditions. And I’ve taught (mostly first-year college Spanish) for half my life.

As a result of the pandemic, my campus went online for a year. That change improved both my job experience and my quality of life. Suddenly classroom management wasn’t an issue. Administration trusted us to manage our time at home. Online testing streamlined grading and gave me new time-management skills. My flexibility with due dates was encouraged, not looked down on. Tangents mostly weren’t an issue in zoom class: time was so tight that we kept topics succinct. I almost never took sick days, because I could just do my work and go lie down. Mental sick days from social overload basically didn’t happen working from home.

Now that we’re back on campus, what will be the new normal?

The accommodations that neurotypical abled people needed during Covid (work from home, online events/appointments, normalized masking/hand-washing, expanded mental health support) need to be offered more universally.

Of course, my ‘pandemic benefits’ don’t apply to everyone, not even all neurodivergents, spoonies (chronic pain/fatigue) or disabled people. Some ADHD/autistics don’t feel engaged with zoom classes. Some couldn’t get necessary care/equipment due to lockdowns, danger of contagion, or overtaxed medical systems. Some people’s conditions forced them to delay or forgo vaccination… And that’s just people I know!

People in general need more options, even without a pandemic.

“Essential workers” and low-income people still had to endanger themselves, even during lockdowns. My students either lost their jobs or worked too many hours. Many couldn’t afford internet at home for their coursework. Campus employees donated to help out, but that didn’t cover everyone’s needs.

High-speed internet must become a basic utility, not a luxury. Access to medical/mental healthcare must be universal. Minimum-wage jobs and SSI must pay a living wage, or we need Universal Basic Income. Personal compassion is nice, but true financial security would’ve solved most ordinary people’s pandemic difficulties. Money may not buy happiness, but it buys the safety and comfort that all deserve, and most don’t have.

It will take systemic changes to address the systemic inequalities targeting the most vulnerable of our society, but individuals need to make our compassion practical by pushing for these changes and by signal boosting the lived experiences of those impacted.

Love Suárez lives in SC with husband Gabriel and cat. She teaches Spanish and sometimes French at a community college and likes action figures, klezmer, and Doctor Who.