header photo

The Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics

ISSN: 2472-7318

From Texas to Queens and Back Again: A Disabled Pandemic Educator’s Journey

Elissa Myers

Table of Contents

Keywords: NTT faculty; student care

Categories: Revisionings of Teaching, Facilitation, and Professional Leadership; Disability, Illness, and Survival (When the World Doesn’t Want You To)

This year I made the transition from being an adjunct in Queens, NY to having a full-time job as an NTT lecturer in Texas, my home state. I’ve done a lot of writing during this time—frantic writing in emails to Covid working group leaders, department chairs, disgruntled and exhausted (but also lovely) members of faculty senate. What can we do? What can be done? What can I (a lecturer whose contract is renewed every year) do without losing my job? Universities here (and in many places) have been responding with the idea that their hands are tied, that there is little we can do (due, in this case, with regard to Texas laws restricting mask and vaccine mandates). I’ve also been doing some frankly, compulsive, writing on Twitter—reaching out to friends and colleagues in my discipline, strangers I’ve just met who also work at Texas universities, etc. to try to raise visibility about what is happening here, and to try to connect with others who understand what is going on. But also to try to reduce my own anxiety in the hope that someone, anyone, maybe the next person I reach out to, might have the answer.

Because during this already anxious time, I also struggle with OCD and generalized anxiety. Though as a native Texan, I was aware of some of what might be going on here already, I was far from prepared for the fact that I’d be teaching in person, with no social distancing, no masks, and uncertain vaccine statuses in my classes (and teaching 5 classes, no less). I was definitely not prepared for the fact that I’d have no say in any of these working conditions, as a new employee, and that faculty here have very little say at all.

The hardest thing of all for me has been to face my inability to be the kind of educator I want to be during this time. I am hoping this can be an opportunity for me to articulate what it is about this that is so difficult. I’ve written before about how important care is to me as an educator, and how when teaching online during the pandemic, I felt that I was able to articulate my care for my students more than ever in all kinds of writing-based ways—check-in emails, accessible organization of course materials, writing grading and participation policies that benefit them and put their health and well-being first. More than ever, my priority became finding ways to show my students that I cared for them.

This semester, on the other hand, I’ve been unable to help my students care for themselves, and the writing that has built my class has become the frantic communication of a writer who does not understand their audience (something I coach my students to avoid, as a composition instructor). I’ve written lists of hospital stats and transmission rates to encourage them to wear masks and get vaccinated (because I can’t write mandates that would protect them all). I’ve written lists of students who are out and mass check-in emails to these students, concerned that they might have Covid.

This has all required a lot of emotional labor, as I come to realize that the room taken up in my heart by care for my students has turned to anger, frustration (sometimes at them) and fear (sometimes of them), which I have no choice but to hide. I become angry when they don’t respond to my statistics, and when they don’t answer my check-in emails. And yet, I still do care about them, and want to be able to implement the policies that I know would be best. I want to have fun with them, celebrate their writing, and most of all, feel like we’re on the same side, but have been unable to feel most of these emotions that usually make teaching so worthwhile.

More than anything, I’ve been struck by the extent to which these emotions make teaching what it is. Asking me to teach without caring is like asking for some water that isn’t wet; it’s a contradiction in terms to ask a teacher not to care—that is what teaching is. Of course, as anyone who has thought much about care or done much carework probably realizes, this is also how they get you–how the institution makes you educators do so much extra labor–physical, mental, and emotional–and then, on top of that, tries to make educators take responsibility for their failures toward students. This semester, I’ve discovered that I have to find a way to care though, or I won’t keep doing this. How can we continue to write, to teach, and to care in the face of exhaustion and hopelessness? I hope my piece will provide one tentative answer to that question.

I have been impressed and gratified by my students’ reactions when I told them I was moving our classes online due to a disability accommodation I recently received due to my OCD and anxiety. One student said “you gotta take care of yourself first,” while another said he “respected my decision.” A few warmly said something to the effect of “we totally get it. This is hard.” This week will be my first week online with students, and I am writing from a place of uncertainty about how that will go. Today, however, I’m sustained by my students’  reactions, by the reality that it is still apparently possible to create solidarity with my students and communicate care for them even when I am doing what’s best for me. Today, I’m grateful for them, and that has to be enough. 



Elissa Myers is a scholar of care, girlhood, children’s literature, crafting, and activism. She now serves as the children’s librarian at the public library in Huntsville, TX, where she advocates for diverse books and inclusive programming that represents the entire community. 

Table of Contents