We’re not quite back to normal even though we’re trying our hardest to pretend that we are. School year 20-21 was bizarre around the world. Virtual school, hybrid, asynchronous, synchronous, cohorts – whatever your school did, it was weird. We had a lot of pivoting to do to adjust to the “new normal” last year – Zoom, digital assignments, virtual labs, and so on. But this year isn’t back to normal. There are new challenges that require pivoting in SY 2021-22 – while not quite post pandemic, everything from bathroom breaks to managing quarantined students is yet another airplane we need to build while we’re flying it.
During SY 20-21, students had frequent opportunities to “zone out.” They could go off camera for a few minutes during zoom meetings or take a bathroom break whenever they wanted. This year, the expectation for paying attention went from zero to full attention all the time. Even on the middle level, students have forgotten how to focus for longer than a few minutes. How do you manage this? I’ve always had an open bathroom policy – if you need to use the bathroom, use the bathroom. Some teachers have stopped allowing students to sign out whenever they want as an attempt to help them focus better. I have gone the other way, encouraging students to take a walk when they need an attention break. Like everything, I guess we won’t know which of us is helping students until more time has passed.
Some kids came back to normal school rocking and rolling and ready to reintroduce themselves to society. Others struggled a little with the new need to be social. Yesterday, I saw a student googling “How to start a conversation.” Some students have been able to work in groups but others have been a little afraid to interact in real time. How do we support these students? Teaching these skills is far more important to our students than teaching them mitosis, but most of us are unprepared to be guidance counselors or therapists.
When school was virtual or hybrid, monitoring of student work was reduced. Admins encouraged us to provide grace and give students a break when it came to homework – allowing late submissions to support students who were struggling with all that the pandemic brought with it. And now, we’re left with the results of that decision – a “regular” school year with “regular” expectations about homework but with students who either don’t know how to complete homework on time or who have fallen out of the habit of doing homework. Not to say that being compassionate is wrong, but the change in expectations has left me with whiplash. I can only imagine how stunned our middle schoolers feel. How do you manage this? I can see students are struggling but I’m reticent to reduce expectations.
I got a notification today that 4 students are quarantined. Last week, there were 3 other students quarantined. There’s a bit of a revolving door. The administrative expectation is that students who are quarantining will keep up with school work so teachers have had to post or email assignments to students. This is a challenging hurdle for science teachers. For starters, how do remote students keep up with the class when their peers have been conducting experiments, collecting data, and analyzing results? There are virtual labs to be sure, and they are a great option if there is a virtual lab that covers the same content and skills that you’re covering in class, but what do you do if there isn’t one available? I’ve been videotaping labs and sharing the videos with at home students. If you have a better solution, I’d love to hear it! I also have a pretty large collection of videos “flipping” each chapter in my curriculum. These have been handy to send home to students who are quarantining so that they have access to some instruction while out.
What challenges have you and your students had while attempting to return to normal?