Teaching During a Pandemic

Guest Educational Blogger Laura Kay Ellis has been an educator for over 20 years at a local high school in Southern California.

It was mid March 2020 and Covid-19 had been in the news. It seemed scary but sort of far away, in the way that Zika Virus and SARS had been. But for some reason this felt different. 

I looked around my classroom. 40 students sitting in very close proximity at round desks. Over 180 students enter the room every day, touching the same doorknob, stashing phones into the pocket chart in the classroom, touching desks, chairs, and class sets of computers.

There was a used tissue on the floor, just lying there, filled with snot and germs and pathogens. 

I thought to myself, I'm going to catch this virus. A few kids were coughing without covering their faces. There is no way I'm NOT going to get this. I felt panicky about spreading it to someone immunocompromised. Both of my parents, some friends, and many of my students fall into this category. 

Other teachers were thinking the same thing. Mass emails were going out asking if we could get hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies to clean our door knobs, desks, and laptops after each class. The answer we were told was there were no cleaning supplies to be had.  People had hoarded cleaning wipes, sanitizer, and toilet paper.  The stores were wiped out. 

One student wore a mask to class. 

Then, on a Friday evening, we received a text. The campus would be shut down for two weeks. That turned into four weeks, then the rest of the year.  We were not able to get our belongings from our classrooms for several weeks. 

Teachers were doing their best to develop curriculum online. Just when most of us started to feel competent, we were told grades could not affect kids negatively. This was understandable, since the closure was so sudden and we did not know which students had computers or the internet. There was zero preparation and it felt like the Wild West. 

Many students did not show up to online class. However, can we blame them if their grades would not go down? 

Students missed out on Prom. Graduation was a drive through and teachers and administrators waved at their cars with masks on. 

When the new school year started, many of the kinks in our new online educational system were worked out. Grades would now count because all students now had access to the technology they needed.

We teach, never knowing if or when we will go back. My school district, in Southern California, is still online. Many other districts are attempting hybrid models. 

Most of my high school students are sad. They miss their friends and physically being in class. 

Here are statements from my colleagues and teachers from different districts about teaching from home: 

Teacher: "Teaching online is both impersonal and personal."

Interpreter: "It's especially challenging for deaf interpreters. If our students’ wifi is wonky or slow then trying to understand what they're signing doesn't work. Our DHH kids are also isolated since most of their families don't sign...school is a lifeline for them. So in summary...virtual learning sucks!"

Teacher: "I love it."

Teacher: "The pandemic is nothing short of stressful. It has brought sleepless nights, revised parenting tactics with my boys as I parent and teach from home."

Teacher: "There is constant trial and error. The students are fatigued. The teachers are fatigued. We are constantly waiting for some news, but we aren't sure when the news is going to come. But despite all the negatives, I think teaching during a pandemic is going to benefit us. We will be more diverse in our lesson delivery. The students will (hopefully) appreciate being in school."

Teacher: "I pretend to teach and the kids pretend to learn."

Teacher: "The kids are trying their best to go along with all of the online protocols but their hearts aren't in it. If anything, I feel like my experience proves how teachers need to have a physical presence in the classroom with students for education to happen properly."

Positives about teaching from home: 

There are positives: No commute. Being able to wear fuzzy socks ALL DAY. The comfort of home. Class discipline issues have disappeared. Feedback is through email, so there is a record for the students to refer back to. Students have more freedom as to when they do assignments. 

But there is a feeling of uneasiness. We do not know when we are going back. We could go back and be on a hybrid schedule (half in person, half online). We could go back and have to go back to distance learning if there is a spike in cases. No matter what happens, it is not going to be the same as before.

How do teachers navigate this uncertainty? 

 We need to have a curriculum that is fluid. Our lessons and plans have to be able to shift seamlessly from distance learning to in person learning. We need to be the constant to our students during uncertain times.

 Mastery Grading does this. It doesn't matter if students are at home or in the classroom. They are working at their own pace and directing their own learning. This flows nicely between the two class formats, which ultimately means less stress for the teacher. 


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