As the end of the first semester during COVID-19 approaches, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on how the experience has gone and what I can do going forward to make the school year a better experience for the students and myself.
My school system decided to give students the option of either taking virtual classes or attending traditional school. Therefore, I ended up with two traditional classes and one virtual. The traditional students (and all teachers) have to wear a mask every day, all day. We also have to do our best to keep our students seated six feet apart (even though that is difficult considering the class size). That means group work is cut to a minimum, as well as any teaching strategy that has students occupying close quarters.
I will say that my school has stuck to this schedule much longer than I thought we would. Most everyone thought we would be in school for about two weeks until we all had to go virtual again. When school started, students were doing a good job of keeping their masks on throughout the day. However, now it has become a struggle trying to keep a few of our students wearing them all day. I get it—wearing them is not comfortable. But we are starting to feel that as more cases rise and more students have to be quarantined, now is really the time to take precautions even more seriously.
Photo: iStock by Getty Images / Fly View Productions
Another challenge has been reinventing the in-classroom lesson strategies. Obviously, lessons are more fun and interactive when students can group together or travel the room, but now, considering how far away students need to stay from one another, it’s hard to incorporate those strategies. Plus, even though you tell students repeatedly to keep their masks on, they are still going to try to wear them inappropriately, thus breathing all over their classmates.
Virtual school is a whole other challenge of its own. For ours (and I imagine other remote learning systems), students are supposed to attend a digital meet and/or complete lessons during the school day, just as if they are in actual school. So, the first challenge was figuring out all of the kinks in the new virtual learning platform. Both student and teacher had to give each other grace as teachers learned how to correctly assign lessons and students figured out how to properly submit assignments. But then came the larger challenge. There are students who are treating it less like actual school and more like they can get it done around their own schedules (or their parents). There are also students who are falling behind, and one or two who haven’t done a thing since school started.
But I think one of the biggest challenges has been the pressure I have placed on myself. This year, more than any other, I have left school thinking about the day and what I should have done differently or asking myself if my students are learning anything or if what I am doing is even effective. I have not been following my own advice of giving myself grace, which is so easy to say and to tell people, but when it comes to yourself, it’s hard sometimes to take this well-intentioned advice.
Photo: iStock by Getty Images / hanibaram
However, I do think there are some good things about working during the time of COVID-19. I have gotten creative with lesson strategies (I think we all have). Google has been a big friend, and I have become more reliant on its collaborative features. Students have been able to do group work without being close in proximity. I have also been able to look into different online resources to make learning more interactive. But I do think one of the better aspects of working during this time has been the ability to build closer relationships with my students. This time has allowed my students and me to get to know one another and build a better classroom community.
If I could do something over again to make this semester go more smoothly, it would be to learn to let things go. I can be a perfectionist, but this year things have accidentally fallen through the cracks that I would normally be on top of, and I worry over every little thing. So, I write this to not only be honest but as an opportunity for growth and to not worry so much.
For my classroom instruction, to get students more collaborative than just using Google Docs, I need to get even more creative with how I incorporate movement and “group work” in my class. Even though I haven’t been able to do this yet, I feel that incorporating the hallways to do group work or an open spot on campus so my students can keep apart more would be a good option—or even taking my class outside for them to work. I like to do a lot of activities where I post things on the walls of my room and have student groups visit each one. Instead of having big, jumbled groups together at one time up and about, an alternative could be to let students go in waves. It may take a little longer, but it gets students up and moving and can break the monotony of staying in their seats.
Finally, even though I feel my class as a whole has become closer this year, there are still things I can do to check in with each student more often. Of course, we all have students who are louder and express themselves more often, but the quiet ones who do not let us know how they are feeling need to be checked in with as well.
Heading into next semester, I’m hoping it goes a little bit smoother, and if you have tips that have worked well for you and your classroom, please share!
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Jessica Hayes has been teaching for six years. She completed a bachelor's degree in social science education at Auburn University in 2009, and a master’s degree in English education from Jacksonville State University in 2014. Recently, she has received her instructional leadership certificate. In her work as a certified trainer for Active Classroom, she builds curriculum maps and trains educators on using the program. In her spare time, she loves reading and learning new technology/productivity skills.