Ben Grainger: “Although we’re at a distance, we’re still here for our students virtually”

Since the Fall of 2018, Ben Grainger has been a part of the SJCC team. Working as an Academic Counselor, he strives to guide students toward success in their educational goals and beyond.

At present, he also teaches a Guidance-130: College and Life Success class, which focuses on the knowledge, skills, and abilities that students need to achieve success in college as well as life.

“Some of that involves knowing how to navigate the college system, such as how to choose a major, how to plan for your general education (GEs), how to transfer to a university,” said Grainger. “It also covers things like study skills, time management, and note-taking, basically all the things that college professors are going to expect students to know how to do in their classes.”

This semester, Grainger’s class has about 25 students, all juniors and seniors from Calaveras Hills High school in Milpitas. Earlier in the semester, when the entire world wasn’t yet grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, Grainger’s students were coming in to take his class right after their regular school day at Cal Hills.

“It gives them an opportunity to earn credits for college while still in high school, but also, they can be applied as elective credits towards their high school graduation,” said Grainger.

At present, due to school closures that will last till the end of the current 2019-2020 year, things have changed. Professors across SJCC’s main campus and Milpitas location, still intent upon providing students with an education, have transitioned all their teaching to online platforms.

Grainger and his colleagues had to quickly become experts on using this new equipment for teaching, while transitioning all counseling to video conferencing. Not an easy feat, considering that not everyone is technically savvy—and also considering that this had to be done fairly quickly.

Grainger, who had incorporated some aspects of distance education into past classes, found the transition to be fairly smooth. He was already quite familiar with the use of Canvas, the online educational platform used by the college.

“At the same time, there is a difference between using Canvas as a supplement to the in-class instruction, and using Canvas to facilitate the entire class experience,” mentioned Grainger.

One of the things that Grainger embraced as a way of fully committing to this new, virtual way of doing things: Not trying to replicate everything exactly as it was for in-person teaching and counseling.

In accepting and embracing the new format, Grainger found he doesn’t need to waste energy on forcing things to be a certain way.

“It’s about understanding that it will be different, and being ok with that,” said Grainger.

Teaching from home, however, does bring its own unique challenges. Grainger’s wife, who’s also a teacher, is at home, too, along with their 10-month-old baby.

“Having them around is wonderful, but can also be challenging when I have something that I need to focus on. The baby doesn't quite understand that daddy is working, and can't just play all the time. She did attend our video-conference staff meeting with me last week, so that was fun,” said Grainger.

Also, even though Grainger has transitioned well into working remotely, he still laments the loss of in-person connections, which he feels are vital for students to experience. During his regular class, he always worked to make things active and participatory, so that the students were engaged and immersed in the process. With everyone so far apart, and in their own locations, much of that gets lost.

“I think that the classroom interactions among the students are where a lot of the learning happens, and that can't be easily replicated online,” said Grainger. “There's also so much in a counseling appointment that is dependent on building a good rapport and relationship with the students, and that simply is not as easy to do via phone or video-conference.”

During his counseling sessions, Grainger has noticed that the pandemic has brought anxiety and uncertainty up to the surface for some students. He’s been very mindful of the fact that these classes aren’t the only thing happening in a student’s life, and that they face pressing challenges, just like everyone else.

“Many of our students work, and might be affected by layoffs. Many students have families, so they have the added stress of children or partners being home from work or school,” said Grainger. “I think it's important for instructors to remember that their students are people, too, and face all the same challenges and stress that we all are in this situation. Honestly, if I were in a position where my work hours were cut and I had questions about how I was going to make rent, keeping up with my classes and college might not be my top priority.”

However, even with the new challenges that have presented themselves during this tumultuous time, Grainger is intent upon continuing to show up each day for his students, to give them the support, education, and guidance that they so need.

For now is truly a time when they need it most.

“Although we’re at a distance, we’re still here for our students virtually,” said Grainger.