What is it like teaching in a pandemic?


Ashley Kenney

Teaching in a Pandemic

I think that we can all agree on one thing: COVID-19 sucks. Even though school is not 100% normal again, it certainly isn’t as bad as last year. I think we all agree that nobody liked Zoom, or online school in general, but what about the teachers? What was their take on it? I interviewed a few teachers to get their perspective.

How did teachers feel about coming back to an empty classroom?
Now, a teacher’s entire job involves being around people, but when online school happened, nobody was in the classroom. How did the teachers feel about that?
Mrs. Knudsen (CTE – Teaching as a Profession Teacher, JV Volleyball Coach) said, “At the beginning of the year, when we were totally virtual, it was challenging as I really tried to get to know each student on a personal level right away. Not physically being together made it difficult to connect.”
Mrs. Bernstein (Health Teacher, Head girls Track and Field Coach, assistant Varsity Volleyball Coach, and Relay for Life team captain) had a similar outlook on this, stating, “[I’m] a huge people person, so having an empty classroom was not something I enjoyed, even for a little while. I love a busy room!”
Lastly, Mr. Morgan (Biology & Forensics teacher, Assistant Swim Team Coach) said, “Having a basically empty classroom was very weird, very foreign, but it did help provide a smaller sense of community to the people that were here, and it was harder to foster a connection with people who were on the other side of a screen.”

What were some negatives/concerns while teaching in a pandemic?
There were definitely some negatives with learning in a pandemic, from technical difficulties to simply worrying about the safety of yourself and others.
Mrs. Bernstein’s biggest concern was, “Just for the health of everyone I was around. It was a very stressful time, especially as a coach. Not only did I need to be concerned with all of the kids in my classroom, but I had to make sure that my athletes were doing what they needed to do to stay healthy.”
A negative for Mrs. Knudsen was that, “Technology is a good thing (when it works)…which was most of the time. However, on those occasions when Zoom failed or other connections went down, it was tough. I, personally, had the advantage of having used Zoom a lot in my previous career, so the learning curve was a little bit less for me. Trying to be sensitive to student needs and realizing that some students had to do their schooling from various locations like coffee shops, parents’ work site or in a house with a lot of activity was challenging. Those students who weren’t able to unmute their mics because of background noise had a more difficult time engaging. There was a lot of stress and uncertainty in the students’ lives and some very serious situations which were difficult to know about and connect to offer support. Some students took advantage of the situation and simply didn’t log in or follow through with their work, so that also was tough holding them accountable.”
Mr. Morgan’s main negative was, “Trying to get lab activities online and not really knowing if kids were on the other side of their screen. A lot of students chose to go with the blank background for Zoom, so a lot of times it felt like I was in an echo chamber talking to myself wondering if they’re hearing, what they’re hearing, and if they’re even there.”
Okay, let’s be real for a second. Who really paid attention during Zoom? Not very many people. In fact, I surveyed students around the school, and over 50% of students (28 out of 39) said NO, they didn’t pay attention. But do the teachers think they still benefited from Zoom?
Well when asked about it, Mrs. Bernstein responded, “I think that it takes a very strong individual to be able to work and be successful in the home environment, not everyone can stay organized and complete work when surrounded by things at home. However, I do think that it works very well for some if they are intrinsically motivated. I had many students that were very involved in class and did very well.”
Mrs. Knudsen said, “Teachers benefited because we were able to engage with the students in real time. Otherwise, we would have had to rely on sending emails or assignments without a personal explanation. It also allowed for questions to be asked and answered verbally immediately and allowed some ‘back and forth’ involvement. Students who took initiative and were active participants in class via Zoom fared much better than those who did not log in or even turn their screens on.”
Mr. Morgan had a similar response to Mrs. Knudsen, saying, “A lot of people benefited. Teachers benefited from learning a bunch of digital resources rather than traditional worksheet style teaching. Students had to learn a lot of problem solving skills, as far as technical issues, how to use Google Classroom. There are definitely some benefits, not a whole lot, but there are some.”

What were some positives about teaching in a pandemic?
Okay, now let’s admit it, there were most definitely some perks of being online. Most people enjoyed not waking up at four or five in the morning, hurrying up and getting ready, just to rush out the door to catch your five or six something bus. Obviously though, that is not something that teachers really related to (since most of them are early birds anyway), so what were some positives for teachers?
A positive take away from Mrs. Bernstein was, “I think that it made me a stronger teacher. I had to really work hard to make sure that the things I taught and had my students do made sense for everyone. We all learn different ways, and I had to make things enjoyable in the classroom, while keeping the kids at home engaged as well. I also got much better with many online platforms!”
While that was a positive take away from Mrs. Bernstein, Mrs. Knudsen’s take away was, “Looking back, the positives were that both teachers & students became more creative in ways to engage and learn. I’m generally an optimist, and I believe there is also a sense of accomplishment about having ‘survived’ and even ‘thrived’ through it. Hard times can make or break us, and I’d like to think that most teachers and students (although exhausted by the effort) will look back with pride on how they overcame the hurdles that the pandemic sent our way.”
A positive take away from Mr. Morgan was, “Yeah we now have this huge bank of digital resources, not only at Lanier, but throughout the county, throughout the nation really, that we can all kind of rely on each other, we all have this sort of badge of honor, we all made it through the pandemic, and we’re on to bigger and better things for education, and kind of realized what education truly needs to be, and maybe we were focusing on some of the wrong things, but now we can get realigned now that we are back in the classroom.”

What was their overall take on teaching in a pandemic?
Now, overall what was their take on the pandemic and teaching in it in general?
Mrs. Bernstein’s overall take was, “We made it. I prefer not to have to do it again, but we know that we can do it. We are all very resilient and can do anything we set our minds to.”
Mrs. Knudsen said, “It was definitely challenging, but not insurmountable. Exhausting, but not overpowering. Different and unique and definitely not something I would want to repeat (given the dire circumstances), but achievable, and I’d like to think that it made us all stronger and aware that we can accomplish hard things.”
Lastly, Mr. Morgan stated, “The biggest take away would probably be: sometimes you just gotta put your head down and just get through it. It wasn’t the best situation, but we all kind of just made the best of it, and now we have a huge bank of digital resources that we can use going forward.”

Needless to say, I think that all these teachers had a neutral outlook, as they all pointed out pros and cons. Thank you to all teachers who agreed to do an interview! It is always great to have a teacher’s POV, as they often differ from students.