Teaching in a Pandemic

Teaching+in+a+Pandemic

Faith Sauder

“I feel like I don’t get to know my students as well.”

“It’s stressful to discipline mask-wearing.”

“80% of the normal process is the same.”

“I’ve adjusted.  Not normal, not bad, but different.”

COVID-19 has presented challenges for everyone.  But how are our teachers doing?  I interviewed 10 teachers from 7 different departments before the new semester began to gauge how they are feeling about the new arrangements and how their teaching has been impacted.  

Overall, those I talked to felt that the transition was easier than they anticipated.  Mr. Virmani, a world history and human geography teacher, summed up the majority opinion when told me it was “better than I thought it would be….the pandemic was a surreal experience [but] we’ve had tools in place [so it was a more manageable process.]”  Mr. Ramos, a music teacher and choir director, observed that this year has truly surpassed his expectations and that the “will of the school staff and student commitment has persevered.”  Many other teachers echoed the same sentiment, remarking that they’ve been pleasantly surprised with the attendance and involvement on the part of their virtual students.

But it hasn’t all been easy.  7 different teachers told me it’s been hard communicating through masks, and they’ve missed seeing their students’ faces.  When asked if it has been harder connecting with students this year, Mrs Vicidomini, an English teacher, reiterated what I heard from many instructors: “Yes, absolutely.  Especially with virtual students and [social distancing] there’s more of a distance in general.”   A Spanish teacher told me: “[We] didn’t know we’d have virtual and face to face at the same time, [so there was] very little prep for it. [We were] concerned we’d not be able to sustain the school year.”  Mrs. Dissinger, a chemistry and general science teacher, told me that she doesn’t think her class is as fun anymore because she can’t be as interactive with her students as she tries to juggle virtual and in-person students simultaneously.  “We’re all under emotional stress, trying to do our best but not coping well so we’re not interacting well with kids,” she explained.

Because of these difficulties, I asked teachers what changes they would make to our current arrangements if they had the opportunity.  Some were content with the policies in place saying “It’s going well, there’s no perfect solution” and “[The administration is doing] the best they can do.”  Others were full of ideas about how to make school better this year.

Several teachers mentioned that “it might work better if there was a dedicated teacher for virtual students.”  But other teachers refuted this notion, saying “What about the contact-traced people?  Who’s their teacher?”  “Having some teachers do only online would be a nightmare for scheduling,” said another.

Ideas about hybrid learning came up; one teacher suggested that we should “limit class size to 20 students with 10 at home [while the rest attend in-person] every other day for less crowding.”  Another teacher stated that the best step forward would be to declare the high school virtual for the rest of the fall semester (the interview took place in the first half of the year).  He reasoned that students have jobs, teams, and other social outlets to fulfill their need to be with other people and to spread the virus, so in-person school isn’t necessary, at least at the high school level.  

One teacher stressed the importance of “focusing on students’ emotions instead of the curriculum.  The workload [needs to go] down, and we need to put students’ needs first,” he said.  Another countered that, arguing that focusing on the curriculum is good because it presents one aspect of normalcy in an otherwise turbulent year.

Though perspectives and ideas differ between them, our teachers are working to make this school year the best it can be.  Thank your teachers for all their effort and sacrifice this year; they deserve it!