I missed being in the classroom, but am also nervous about going back.
Last year I taught online, and the year before, schools were closed for almost a full semester. Worse still, high school day, unlike elementary schools, will not return to normal as high school schedules have been forced to turn into a strange Frankenstein monster of pseudo-cohorts, as ordered by the Ministry of Education.
In lieu of the usual four 75-minute instructional periods (plus lunch), school boards will use an alternate format of two 150-minute periods per day. So, for example, Week 1 might consist of two 150-minute math and English classes, followed the following week by two 150-minute French and geography classes, and then back. I know, confusing, especially since there won’t be cohorts of students in smaller groups and they will have a common lunch period.
Additionally, both high school and elementary school teachers will be simultaneously teaching students who have opted out of in-person instruction, thus giving the phrase “for people watching at home” a whole new meaning.
Teaching while masked and at a physical distance, and for twice the time of a normal class while simultaneously serving students online, will certainly be a challenge. I spoke with two fellow high school teachers and friends to get their perspective on the new school year.
Aleem Ebrahim has been a teacher in the York region for 16 years and is excited to return to the classroom. “Seeing the children, having that dynamic in the classroom, is something I look forward to.” I was also happy to learn that he was not as concerned about COVID-19. “I think everyone has this little apprehension, but I also know from communicating with my students last year that a lot of them were getting vaccinated.”
Rownak Chowdhury has been teaching high school in the GTA for 20 years and currently works in special education. Her feelings more closely mirror mine: “I don’t feel clear, ill-prepared, and I feel the parents’ concern. Being a father myself, there are still a lot of things we don’t know. “
Ebrahim argues that one of the most important insights from last year’s teaching was the need for flexibility. “Things changed very quickly, especially when the system went from classroom to online, things were so erratic” and, for this, developing a community in the classroom is key. “Creating a dynamic in the classroom is even more important online, but more difficult because some of the kids don’t know each other. Although we (the teachers) try to have strategies and practices to make things easier for them, that’s where the flexibility piece is important. “
For Chowdhury, one of the big takeaways from last year was remembering that learning happens everywhere, but “it’s just not happening in the traditional way we think about learning.” He pointed out several examples of learning: “children are learning to bake, to spend time with the elderly, to be patient, not to have too many schedules.”
In addition to non-traditional learning, students have learned about issues of equity and inclusion, particularly after the murder of George Floyd. “People are no longer distracted from systems of oppression and inequity. In the South Asian community, we are more aware of our (own) racism against blacks. So, although there have been great difficulties, there has also been community “.
He noted that community building is happening at all levels, “from preschoolers who are raising money for a cause rather than toys. It’s unprecedented, the number of people who are stepping up and saying, ‘We need to have these conversations. How are we going to support each other? ‘”
Ebrahim has some advice for parents of high school students: “I know it’s difficult with teens, but try to keep communication open with teachers. Make sure your child is developing social skills too. Many parents are concerned about the expectations of the curriculum, but the social communication, the adaptation to the school environment, the mental health piece, they need to be more aware and monitor that more ”.
Chowdhury also has some tips for teachers returning to high school classrooms. “If anything, as educational personnel, we have seen how resilient we are. We have also recognized what is important when it comes to learning. The core of all learning is relationship building. “
Ebrahim wants to remind educators to practice good self-care. “When we return, we will return to the normal pattern, but it will not be normal. Much of our energy will be devoted to the (student’s) social interaction gap or their educational gap. We will be dealing with (student) anxiety and we need to be aware that it takes a lot of energy and time. That’s where exhaustion comes from. Take some time for yourself. “
Both teachers warned returning students to take time to adjust to being back in school. It will be a process for everyone. “We expect children to open up, but they don’t always have the words. Find someone you trust and be yourself with that person, ”Chowdhury advised.
Finally, while both educators are excited to get back to class interaction, their enthusiasm is tempered by some concerns.
“I would like us to have a little more information about the improvements that the boards and the ministry have made,” Ebrahim said. “What has been done to ensure the safety of staff and students?” Specific information on the status of air filters in schools, or on the PPE required by boards, would go a long way toward reassuring educators and parents.
Chowdhury’s concerns revolve around both students and educators. “I am concerned about the mental health of our children. I am concerned that we have not learned enough from what happened during COVID to support our children as we begin to open up. Regarding learning about anti-black and anti-indigenous racism, I hope that we continue without losing that momentum, that willingness to feel uncomfortable.
“I’m excited to get back to face-to-face human interaction. I hope I don’t look at myself on camera. ”
Next Week: How to Avoid Burnout, for Teachers and Students
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