“When you’re in class, you don’t need to unmute and hop into a conversation. But when you have to go through the motions of pressing a button, most just decide not to talk,” music teacher Seth Gardner said.
With the onset of Covid-19, certain conditions have become a fact of life—Zoom, minimal interaction, and uncertainty of the future.
For virtual students, the small interactions that made up everyday life have vanished; in classrooms, students and teachers constantly assess the risks they take by sharing a space; a sense of stress lingers on everyone’s mind.
“I miss their voices, and I miss the conversations that we are able to have in class, even the side conversations,” Gardner said. “In the past, we would do trips. [The choir] would perform in April in Washington. It was an outside experience, and something as small as Universal and musical plays, have been changed. I miss that dynamic. You don’t get those non-academic conversations anymore.”
While the ongoing pandemic has affected communities and individuals in large ways—worry over vulnerable loved ones, inability to go to school or see a friend face-to-face—for many, it is the smaller details that became most challenging.
Social Studies teacher Robin Melton said she worries about her students getting a proper education while balancing her home-life and family.
“I’m scared to take a day off—is that a day where my kids can’t learn? My daughter started kindergarten this year, but what if she gets a cold? I’d be quarantined, too. Last year I might have taken a mental health day but can’t do that anymore. Last year I took a day for my daughter for her last day of preschool but can’t do this year. Not from admin, but it’s just how I feel,” Melton said.
For students, missed social time leads to loneliness, distractions become harder to ignore, and learning is simply more difficult. There is such difficulty in overcoming any situation that no one has experienced before, and this difficulty does include administrators and teachers.
At the beginning of the school year, a precedent was set: this year would be different. What was done in prior years would simply not be possible this year.
“Once school started, we all had to adjust our teaching styles and expectations in the classroom to make sure we were keeping safety in mind,” Melton said. “We could no longer do group activities like we used to, especially in a mobile learning cottage. Due to limited space, moving around the room would be limited as well.”
Social studies teacher Roma Jagdish said that despite her love for teaching social studies, the strain of pandemic teaching was taking a toll on her—causing her to feel farther away from both her family and her students. Jagdish goes home every day exhausted, five days a week. She’ll bring her daughter dinner and soon after, sits down for four hours of grading and planning.
“I have family in Singapore and my mom is very sick and I can’t visit her. She’s eighty-four, but I may not be there if she passes on. I wish I could go home to see her,” Jagdish said.
Although the changes make for a challenging year, it has given teachers like Melton, Jagdish, Gardner, and the rest of the faculty a chance to add unique and cheerful elements to their classrooms.
Jagdish used her doc camera to share online with students in AP Human Geography for a cultural project, including various pieces such as decorated masks from different cultures. Melton held her AP World History Empire Autopsy project on the website Sway to help online and in-person students collaborate. Gardner used websites like Teams and Nearpod to bond students and prepare them for choir concerts.
“It caused me, in a good way, to rethink how I teach, the activities I teach, and to keep improving on yourself, it challenged me as a teacher and to think outside the box,” Melton said.
The challenges of taking care of themselves and teaching two classes at the same time has taken its toll. Teachers are working hard to be as strong as they can to keep moving on. Even through all the troubles and tribulations of this year, their only wish is to return to normalcy.
“We want the kids back. Not just as observers, but as participants,” Jagdish said.
RESEARCH AND REPORTING BY ODELIA TIUTYAMA, SARAH CATALANO, LILY QUARTERMAINE, MAHITHA RAMACHANDRAN, COURTNEY NELSON
A version of this article appears in print on Feb. 19, 2020, Features pullout of the Torch with the headline: One Year of Pandemic Teaching: Perspective.