This post is part of our series entitled Teaching and Learning During a Pandemic, in which we invite guest authors to reflect on the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic for teaching and learning. Our guest today is Peter Consenstein, a French professor in the department of Modern Languages at the Borough of Manhattan Community College and in the Ph.D. Program in French at CUNY Graduate Center. He is a translator and publishes critiques of contemporary and experimental French literature and poetry. Other posts in the series are compiled here.
Although intellectuals, educators, teachers and professors may be viewed as essential and/or frontline responders to the ongoing pandemic, we must admit that we intellectuals are not on the real front lines, ours are virtual. The difference between real and virtual spaces distinguishes life from death and sickness from health, a social situation at the heart of what it means to teach and learn through a pandemic. The students I taught were often real first responders. On real front lines, they faced sickness and death. They worked in grocery stores, they delivered food and medicine, they cleaned surfaces, they continued to take public transportation. They delivered services directly and indirectly to people like me. They kept me safe and fed.
On March 19, 2020, all of the campuses of the City University of New York (CUNY) closed and we moved to online or remote learning. Normal life routines ceased for 275,000 students on twenty-five campuses spread far and wide throughout the five boroughs of New York City, for 12,000 adjuncts and more than 7,500 full time faculty members, for the HEO’s (Higher Education Officers), the Professional Staff Congress (our faculty and staff union, representing 30,000 people), for most members of buildings and grounds crews, for all food service workers and for most members of the campuses’ security staff.' This was of course true for almost the entire City of New York and unless you were here, you cannot understand the isolation, desolation and strangeness we felt to see our entire city turn into a ghost town.