We are a year and a half into teaching during a pandemic. I know we are not through the pandemic yet by any means, but I no longer feel like a novice pandemic teacher, and that is a major relief.
As I reflect on teaching during a pandemic, I can see growth within my personal career and our profession as a whole. I’ve learned some things that have made me a stronger teacher, and I’ve come up with some beliefs and practices that I want to carry forward.
For one thing, the pandemic essentially forced me to go paperless for a year. Our district discouraged passing out papers and picking them back up, and it made me try several units of study in a new way. Although I still believe there is a lot to be said for the power of pen and paper, I found some activities could be shifted to digital to make them engaging and creative in a new way, while also helping the environment! Before the start of last year, I investigated some tech tools that I could use; you can read more about them on my blog post here. It also forced me to shape up my online grading skills. I started leaning on Google Forms a lot more. This drastically sped up my grading and granted faster feedback for students! If you haven’t explored Forms within Google Classroom, I cannot recommend them enough. If you want to check out how I converted my task cards to digital Google Forms, see these Pythagorean Theorem Task Cards.
In the 2020-2021 school year, we had students experiencing school through a variety of learning options. Students and their parents could choose for their students to be in school full time, part time, or completely online. Because of this, we had to make all instructional content and materials available digitally; essentially, we had to re-create all of our lessons so they could be accessed online. This felt like a momentous task, so my PLC worked together to plan, prepare, and execute the online instructional videos. I’ll be honest, I can sometimes fall into a habit of tweaking a lot of the content and materials created by my PLC. For one thing, I can be a bit of a control freak, but more importantly, I think it helps my teaching to put my own hands on the content/materials before presenting them to students. That being said, this personalization simply was not possible last year; there frankly was not time. I know this was beneficial for me as a professional. I had to release some control to my team, who I truly do trust, to get the job done. This reminded me about the value of teamwork and that it is not essential for me to do my work 100% on my own. I needed a reset on this so that I could carry it going forward, and I’m grateful for it.
Finally, pandemic teaching taught me to slow down. We all know our students are dealing with social and emotional setbacks like we’ve never seen before. Some essentially completely missed school for a year and a half. Thankfully, my district has advocated for and respected the need for the students to set more of the pace as we return to in-person school. I’ve found myself culling down our standards even more to focus on priorities. I’ve noticed the need to re-teach skills that students have missed, and I’ve given myself the permission to take the time to do this well, something that I’ve rushed through in the past. When I can see my students need it, I set aside a few minutes to catch up on missing assignments or just debrief and hang out as a class. I still value teaching bell-to-bell, but I’ve just added in more time for there to be breath in the classroom, to pay attention to my students’ needs and meet them genuinely.
Teaching in a pandemic is hard and heartbreaking in so many ways. I hope you find pockets of encouragement throughout your days and strength to persist in the good work that I know you are doing.