Eyes have it
From the first day of the pandemic, people have been looking optimistically toward its conclusion. Along the way, we have had to innovate, motivate and accommodate.
What have we learned? Faculty members chime in on revolutions that affirm our ability to adapt and grow — and that will leave us better off on the other side.
When I watch young children and what they have been through during this pandemic, I see that they are much more resilient than I thought. However, the impact the pandemic has had on teachers, across the board, has been highly traumatic. That would be a theme that needs to be carried on to administrators and parents as we move forward in a post-
I saw a sign at a restaurant that said, “We are understaffed. Please be kind to the ones who showed up.” These should be hung in our schools, too. The way teachers have to be prepared to pivot without warning is incredibly stressful — and it’s not done. Going into this year, the politics of vaccines and mask wearing is putting teachers’ lives on the line as they return to work. This added stress is taking its toll.
Moving forward, we need to establish a commitment to have a psychologically safe and healthy environment and to create a non-toxic culture for our educators. To do this, we need to practice effective conflict resolution and determine the processes that allow people to see their role in being accountable to a non-toxic culture. This effort is not just with administrators but each other.
When you have a child with special needs, there is a team that works together to mobilize different resources to help that child. This needs to exist for teachers — resources from different units on campus that can make teachers’ jobs easier, more organized, less stressful and perhaps even a little more inspiring.
In the course I teach to sophomores from a variety of majors on modern romantic relationships, we discuss how life changes when serious life events occur. For example, research around the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina found the number of marriages went up drastically, as did divorces.
We don’t know all the reasons behind the data, but we can theorize. Disasters teach us life can be unpredictable. If I like the relationship I’m in, why not get married? If I’m not happy, then a disaster or a crisis is a good time to re-evaluate. Life is short; why not make a change?
While this is not my area of study, I have been reflecting on the content of that class and the discussions of my students. We may find the coronavirus pandemic has a similar effect on relationships, but I believe we are already seeing it in how people are approaching their careers. People are ending their current careers and starting new careers. Some of it is economic or situational, but it may also be attributed to a new perspective on life. Life is short; why not do work I like?
When extreme life events happen, we see more of what matters to us.
What we can take away from the data post-pandemic is these types of occurrences let us see that things in our lives are not as set in stone as we think. We have agency, and we can engage in creating a future for ourselves.
Twelve years ago, I worked for a large accounting firm that offered perks to attract younger employees to work very long hours. We had a meditation room with a big recliner where you could go for 15 minutes and just take a break. No one ever used it. It was socially unacceptable. Why do you need a break? Are you soft?
COVID-19 brought to the front and amplified a lot of the issues workers have been dealing with: financial strain, social isolation, increased responsibilities associated with children and their education. As a result, firms are becoming increasingly aware that employees are not
machines where you pull the lever down and they start working, and nine hours later they stop and then do that same thing every single day. We’re people, and as people we have peaks and valleys — and for a lot of people this
pandemic is a valley.
Firms are more aware of the need to support their employees’ mental health. It’s becoming akin to physical concerns, like a broken leg or a sprained ankle. We have these mental injuries we need to take care of, too. Firms are addressing these concerns in how they do business and in what they offer to employees. More and more are offering perks like a gym membership or yoga classes, and after the pandemic these perks will likely stay and grow. More importantly, it’s becoming acceptable — to both managers and peers — that employees take advantage of opportunities to support their mental health.
During the pandemic, I was writing a book about research on undergraduates in theater while the performing arts industry was forced to pause and reckon with oppressive structures and practices too long entrenched. Finally, those of us who have focused on social justice and working in our communities to foster dialogue were being listened to. In academic theater, I’ve long advocated for programs to educate undergraduates in the applied theater fields. These skills include utilizing performance and role-play based on research in educational and developmental contexts. Applied theater intentionally brings people together to create inclusion and belonging in our communities, and it requires our students to be content creators of original work with purpose.
From large production media companies to local community theaters, the pandemic forced the conversation about unsustainable and harmful industry practices that have relied on self-sacrifice, the romanticization of exhaustion, and a profound lack of diversity among those with power. Academic theater programs are best positioned to respond to the needs of a more equitable and diverse industry.
We have the responsibility to prepare our students for the leading edge of the performing arts. We need students to know how to advocate for themselves and others for equitable and safe industry practices. Our students need to be advocates for change in an industry experiencing unprecedented upheaval. When this pandemic ends, my hope is that our industry will be reformed by recent graduates of theater programs that have prepared them to use their talents for advocacy and artistry.