Teaching, comforting and empathizing with students during a tough time. And also telling them a bedtime story

Eastern Michigan University political science professor Jeffrey Bernstein devises creative ways to share this challenging period with his classes

Jeff  Bernstein tells a bedtime story

YPSILANTI – Jeffrey Bernstein is known for his creative, student-focused teaching methods. One glance at his Facebook profile over the years will tell you that.

So it comes as no surprise that Bernstein, like so many Eastern Michigan University faculty members, is seeking not only to teach but also to comfort students as he conducts his political science classes online during the COVID-19 virus outbreak.

Bernstein’s latest twist? He told his class a bedtime story. In person. On what would have been Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season.  About Mr. Met, the longtime, popular mascot of his adored, favorite baseball team, the New York Mets.

Bernstein had been conducting classes over Zoom, but wanted to connect some more. He first recorded himself reading a bedtime story, then decided to do one live at 9:30 p.m. last Thursday night. Wearing his Mets jersey, of course.

Easing the social isolation

“A lot of what I’m kind of trying to do is send a little signal that I am dealing with the uncertainty and dealing with upheaval and disruption just like them,” Bernstein said of his students.  “I’m also not able to do much of what I want to. So I am trying anything I can to ease the social isolation a bit. I am constantly thinking of what else can be done.”

Bernstein says his students are still getting the core of the material for each class, but readily acknowledges the limitations, noting “we’re not able to do a lot of what we wanted to do.” In addition to teaching live, he is recording his classes

“We do need to be very sensitive to the fact students can’t all immediately access the classes on Zoom,” he said. “We have students with serious Internet challenges or that are working extended hours in their jobs. That requires flexibility.”

Bernstein recalls teaching through 9/11, when neither he nor many of his peers had ever navigated through that kind of life-altering event. Now, his students are experiencing a singular crisis, with both profound social and economic effects as well as the obvious health challenges.

Courageous students

“A lot of our students are courageously carrying a lot of stuff around with them,” Bernstein says. “This experience has made it even more readily apparent.”

Bernstein sees his function as “keeping hope going,” adding, “It is going to be brutal, but we will get through this together.”

And there is one personal silver lining.  

“A lot of what is keeping me going is what I’m going to pull from this and the learning tools and techniques we’re now using,” Bernstein said. “I’m learning more about the craft of teaching. I’m hoping that I come back in September even better. I’ve never viewed my job as teaching content, rather, I’ve always viewed it as teaching people.

“I love seeing my students in front of me on the screen. I know who they are. It’s like seeing old friends.”

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves nearly 18,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and, its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

April 01, 2020

Written by:
Geoff Larcom

Media Contact:
Geoff Larcom