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I'm a Professor. Here's What I'd Like Parents to Know as Learning Moves Online

Vicki Nelson

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The coronavirus has changed life for all of us, at least for now.

Most college students have returned home and are trying to do their work online — perhaps in their childhood bedroom. I’m sitting at a computer in my house trying to redesign and teach courses I had carefully planned with wonderful, interactive classroom experiences.

None of us bargained for this.

As I sit here, away from my classroom, my colleagues and my students, I’m trying to imagine what it's like for those on the other end of our computer connection. I’m trying to imagine what you may be thinking as you watch your student sail through assignments that seem too easy (or too hard), or struggle with the overwhelm of this new approach.

I’m trying to stay connected with your student, but you are now part of this teaching relationship, too.

Welcome to our new partnership!

As we all work to get through the rest of the term together, there are a few things I’d like you to know about me.

  • I love teaching your students, and I miss seeing their shining faces every day. (Well, maybe they’re not shining at 8:00 am classes, but most of the time they brighten my day.)
  • I miss being in the classroom. I miss walking around the room, making eye contact, watching for feedback and telling jokes. No amount of online discussion boards or video conferences can replace that.
  • I am not designing an online class. I am taking a face-to-face class and trying to put part of it online. And I’m trying to do it in a rush.
  • I’m struggling to find the balance — between delivering a course online with enough work to maintain integrity while also understanding that many of my students are stressed, overwhelmed and worried.
  • I am learning lots of new technology. This is challenging for instructors as well as students. The learning curve is steep for all of us.
  • I understand how difficult this is for many students. School may not be a priority for some right now. But here we are. If they will work with me, I believe that we can do this together.
  • I can be flexible, but I need students to communicate with me and let me know what's happening in their lives. I wrote to one of my students to remind him that he hadn't submitted any of last week’s work. He wrote back and apologized but said that his hours as an EMT were overwhelming him right now. I had no idea. I told him, “Thank you and stay safe!” We’ll work out a schedule.
  • I’m rethinking my assumptions about what students can learn and do on their own. And many of my students are surprising me with their insight, commitment and abilities.
  • I’m lucky. My children are grown and in homes of their own. But I see colleagues trying to teach while juggling their own families or caring for elderly relatives. Not all of us are spending our days peacefully in book-lined offices.
  • I hope that you will do all that you can to encourage your student — but then let them do this work on their own. Many will struggle, but please let them try. Most can do it.
  • I need your help to keep them motivated and focused as the novelty of this “new normal” wears off. We may not know where the finish line for this virus will be, but there is a finish line to the semester.
And finally –

We’re human. All of us. Most of us are doing the best that we can in one of the most difficult situations we’ve faced. That’s true of professors, students and parents.

A newsletter from the Auburn University Parent and Family Association said it best: “There will be a lot of adjustment for both students and teachers, and we will do well to approach each other with empathy, forgiveness, and grace.”


Thank you for being my partner in helping your student finish strong.

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Vicki Nelson has more than 35 years of experience in higher education as a professor, academic advisor and administrator. She also weathered the college parenting experience successfully with three daughters. She established her website, College Parent Central, to help college parents achieve the delicate balance of support, guidance and appropriate involvement as they prepare for and navigate the college journey with their student. Vicki also serves as co-host of the College Parent Central podcast.
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