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The Pandemic Has Made Us All First Year Teachers Again

2020 August 15
by Mike Vial

Like many have said, all teachers will feel like first year teachers again soon.

In previous years, I would be buying extra supplies–with my own money –o make my classroom operate: pencils, Kleenex, art materials, used novels etc…This year, I had to buy my own air purifier for my windowless classroom.

I’m really finding it difficult to accept that, but we live with the world as it is, not how it should be.

My first meeting is in eight days, my students’ first day is Aug 31. I still don’t know what classes I’m teaching.

I don’t know if we are the iceberg or the Titanic. All I can do is create a little lifeboat, so I can help my students reflect on life and literature during a historic pandemic and still explore news, memoir, poems, songs, fiction and art.

* * * Bright Spots * * * 

There may be no light at the end of the tunnel yet, but there are a few bright spots for teachers this year: We have the opportunity to  recreate a fairer, more equitable classroom for the future now and tomorrow.

The pandemic has exposed every shadow of unfairness in society, that we subconsciously knew was there.

We can and must recreate a better education from scratch after this, and maybe even now, while wearing our masks, as long as those changes don’t make students’ more anxious.

This fall, all of our teaching must empower students; all of our lessons must begin with empathy.

  1. Should we expect perfection of rote memorization when anxiety ruins sleep and affects short term memory? If you also feel like you are forgetting where you put your stuff, picture learning 100 vocabulary words soon.
  2. This is the time to go grade-less as much as possible. We can’t grade an essay fairly with 92% vs a 94%, and during a pandemic, this seems unimportant, since we are watching our own learning curve change with social distancing, mask wearing, recognizing contact vs. respiratory spread.If epidemiology is allowed to revise their learning, why can’t our students?  The learning is in the process, and we must guide our students through it.
  3. Project-based learning can be our best route, but we must remember we must teach the skills of the project, and even value that more than the final outcome. My first years teaching, I would assign projects, but assume students would simply know what to do. During the pandemic, we’ve been participating in one giant group project, and wow has the process been important.
  4. Classic literature really can take the backseat now. How can I expect my students to care about Romeo and Juliet when they are worried about the present and reminded about it on social media daily? Shakespeare is difficult enough to teach when I have all of my tools: group work, costumes, improv, feud scenes! None of this will be allowed, so why make my students suffer through it for six weeks at their desks? No, this is the opportunity for us to modernize our curriculum.
  5. Late work–yes, we should letting students have second chances and turn work in past deadlines. For real. Look at how we don’t even know our full plans for our return to school!
    1. However, we also need to create a system that is fair and not random. The goal is for students to take ownership of their process, and reflect on it.

We are composing the history that will be retold, analyzed, and criticized in books read 100 years from now. As teachers, this can be our time to rewrite the view of our classroom.

* * *
I hope everyone is doing OK. I miss my musical friends so much. If at all possible, please put schools before large parties, bars, and higher risk activities.

Teachers  and kids need the best shot we can get, especially those of us going mask-to-mask (face-to-face) soon.


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