Adjusting to pandemic rules is going to wreck me this term

It wasn’t a good night. It’s not a particularly good morning either. I’m teaching the first in-person lab of the semester today, and in addition to anxiety about mingling with potential flesh-incubators of a virus that could kill me, I’m sweating over the major changes to the lab.

Under normal circumstances this first 3 hour Drosophila lab would be casual: here are the flies, here’s how to grow them, take your time setting up this first cross, take a little while to get familiar with fly morphology, and all the while I’d wander the lab, helping people out and answering questions and showing them things on the microscope. You know, the normal way of doing things.

Not this year.

The lab has been split up into 3 one-hour sections, with a third of the enrolled students assigned to each. I have to prep the lab so everything is at hand right there at their bench: no wandering over to that shelf to pick up fly bottles, then to that sink for medium, then to the incubator for flies. Nope, the ideal is that they come in, sit down, and don’t get up until their tasks are done. I have to run around and set up 8 stations with all supplies, including anesthetized flies of the right genotypes. I have to have it all set up before lab, and then I have to replenish everything 15 minutes before the next hour long section comes in.

The tasks have been greatly pared down, too. Make medium. Learn to distinguish male from female flies sleeping in a petri dish. Sort them into the bottles of medium. Put them in the incubator. You’re done, get out, I have another batch of students coming in. I’ve tried to trim every non-essential thing out of the process so that if I had to do it myself, I’d be done in 5 minutes, because I know that it takes a lot longer to navigate the unfamiliar.

I feel like a choreographer who has carefully laid out all the steps, and then I’m expecting the students to do a full performance without rehearsal…and if they mess up (which will be all my fault, not theirs), it’s going to delay or ruin the next 6 weeks of crosses, and will block the next hour’s worth of students from getting in and getting their job done. I had anxiety dreams about forgetting some little thing, and waves of students getting progressively more and more slowed down, and hundreds (my class isn’t that big) of students accumulating in a socially-distanced mob outside my door, waving signs and chanting about how I’m an incompetent teacher.

So yeah, everything’s going just fine. The sad thing is that even if everything goes off flawlessly, I’m going to go mad trying to juggle everything for three hours this afternoon, and I’m going to stagger out lathered in sweat at the end of it. After I clean up the chaos, that is, because I’m doing it again on Thursday. I hope I don’t have to be coherent or conscious for anything tonight.

Oh, and yesterday I had to run out to the local plague pit grocery store for last minute supplies, and encountered two mouth-breathing a-holes who couldn’t even be bothered to wear a mask. I am beginning to hate about half the residents of this town.


  1. nomaduk says

    I am beginning to hate about half the residents of this town.

    Keep at it. I’m up to hating about half the residents of this planet, so you have some catching up to do.

  2. birgerjohansson says

    Can they not hire some big, beefy bouncers that eat steroids like candy? We are talking germ warfare here.
    In theory non-maskers are harmless if they strictly obey 6ft distancing and the cashiers have plexiglass panes in front but I doubt the ideolgically motiverad %$@ will accept distancing any more than masks.
    BTW the brief scare about one of the vaccines not being effective was bogus. Someone in Germany had confused two sets of data. Since the Trump lineage originated in Germany, I think we have located a second cousin of Donald.

  3. stwriley says

    Sorry to sound unsympathetic, but at least you can do in-person labs in some form. All my students (high school) are remote and aren’t even allowed into the school building. I’ve had to devise what labs I could that they can do at home and I’m sure you can imagine how well that’s been going. And to top it all off, this was going to be our first year in the new school building with our shiny new labs and equipment. Believe me when I tell you that I’d do pretty much any amount of work to be able to actually have a lab session with my students.

  4. says

    I am with @birgerjohansson, they need some big folks that can bounce people and who can set this up for you. Hell, the universities can use the CARES funding almost all are receiving (I know because I audit CARES funding). I can’t imagine they don’t get CARES/COVID funding and this is exactly what its supposed to be used for. For expenses that aren’t normal in a non-COVID pandemic.

    I am so sorry about this.

  5. raven says

    Oh, and yesterday I had to run out to the local plague pit grocery store for last minute supplies, and encountered two mouth-breathing a-holes who couldn’t even be bothered to wear a mask.

    I can easily top that.

    I ran into two trashed out redneck looking guys who were sort of wearing masks. They were both very sick with a respiratory disease. Coughing, runny noses, and having trouble standing up much less walking.
    By the time I noticed them, they were in line ahead of me 6 feet away.

    My 14 day quarantine went well.
    I’m still alive and didn’t get sick.
    The next time I go to that store is after I’m vaccinated.

  6. says

    My colleagues in lab courses make me grateful to be a math teacher. My colleagues in English make me glad I don’t have to read and comment on reams of semi-literate essays (“I’m entitled to my opinion and you can’t mark my opinion wrong!”). I guess my hobby is counting my blessings.

  7. DanDare says

    I’m in Australia. We are much safer here with no local infections. I have lots of friends and family in the US, UK and elsewhere.
    A friend at a cafe started on about the virus is no worse than the flu. I nearly committed murder right there and then.

  8. larrylyons says

    sounds like a classic town and gown situation.

    That said don’t you have any lab or teaching assistants to handle the grunt work or is that just in the larger colleges and universities?

  9. robro says

    Keeping up with the pandemic rule changes is getting to be a full-time job. California just decided there are enough ICU beds so we’re back to semi-lockdown. We can get haircuts and go to the gym again, but not eat in restaurants. Yahoo. At least, until the next wave pushes ICU bed availability below 15%. Frankly, I think it’s kind of ridiculous.

  10. garnetstar says

    Yeah, I feel the lab-set-up anxiety too. Last night I dreamed that when I walked into my first lab class, they’d changed the building and room without telling me. So I ran to the new building, but the labs were crumbling with age and didn’t have any of the preparations I’d made.

    Mine starts in a week, and I’m having the last set-up meeting with the staff today. The reason for the anxiety dream.

  11. hillaryrettig says

    PZ – my partner is a professor, too – physics – and I’m watching all the extra work he and his colleagues are doing to try to give their students a good, and safe, learning experience. (“Choreography” is an excellent way to describe it!) I’m filled with admiration for him and you and all of the dedicated educators out there.

    Just fyi, they’re recommending TWO masks now. A KN95 (not as good as an N95 but better than a plain mask) topped by a plain “barrier” mask. We’re using that combo to shop, and I’d be using it too if I were in a superspreader classroom situation..

  12. cartomancer says

    Well that sucks, eh? I definitely come down on the fortunate side of the great teaching divide. Latin and Ancient History are pretty easy to teach remotely with a minimum of materials, and books can be got to students rather efficiently nowadays.

    Sciences and the arts, on the other hand, not so much.