Kathleen Bustamante writes for the Martin Center that the pandemic has affected her approach to college students’ challenges.

A student whose mother had been hospitalized for leukemia, for example, experienced an understandably high amount of stress when the lockdown began. A bright student, he had turned in quality work on time, but started to miss deadlines during the lockdown. He began battling depression and sought treatment because hospital rules stopped him from visiting his mother. He admitted he was having trouble handling the anxiety of a parent battling cancer, a pandemic, and passing my class.

Before COVID-19, I might have thought twice before believing him. After 14 years of teaching, I have heard my share of sad stories by procrastinating students who lie to avoid a failing grade.

However, this pandemic has brought about trauma and emotional lows for many people. Experiencing the same stressors as my students has increased my levels of understanding and patience as a teacher.

To be a better teacher, being approachable at the beginning of the term is essential. Communicating my willingness to work with students is vital when tragedy occurs and pressure mounts. Previously, I failed to follow up with students who were struggling academically, but now I am learning to check on students to ensure they are okay. I am also learning to sometimes offer flexibility on deadlines when I can tell a student is struggling.

Some would argue that extending deadlines only promotes procrastination and sets students up for failure in the real world. College, after all, offers a valuable opportunity to prepare students for the pressures of their careers. But as previously indicated, the life of a working student at a two-year college is often far more hectic and riddled with basic needs than that of the average American working a nine-to-five job. Students are older and many already have basic work skills—shown by them already working a job.