Teaching in person during a pandemic: roll with the punches

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The theme for this year is roll with the punches. At every turn, instructional models are changing and teachers, students, and families are learning to adapt to new expectations. This year, I am now too familiar with students sitting in rows with desk shields and masks on – a setup that is very different from my usual desk pods.

Until November, my school was on a hybrid schedule, meaning students attended in person twice a week on alternating days. With my class sizes ranging from three to eleven students each day, there were few coronavirus cases at school and we were very productive in class. Following Thanksgiving break, students returned to school in person five days a week. Desk shields were installed and masks continued to be required. However, coronavirus cases in the area increased significantly and the impact was felt at school. Positive cases led to a handful of students quarantining for two weeks. I attempted to provide virtual instruction to those students while teaching full time to students in person. The quarantined students did a wonderful job of pivoting back to remote learning and doing their best to keep up, despite the unexpected changes. The continued spike in cases resulted in two weeks of fully virtual instruction following winter break. We returned to school in person on January 19th. Students are happy to be at school and I am happy to see them. I feel like a broken record though, constantly asking students to social distance and wear their mask over their nose. I have built in time at the end of each class to have students help spray and wipe off each desk. Every other seat is marked off at the tables in the cafeteria to encourage social distancing and students have to wear masks outside during recess if they want to talk closely with their friends. Overall, I have been impressed with how well they’ve handled the adjustments.

My biggest challenge with instruction this year is facilitating collaboration safely. When I would normally ask students to pair up and sit with their partner, it’s now more like, “Turn and talk with your neighbor without moving your desk.” I limit time with partners, facilitate more whole-group classroom discussion, and build in time for social-emotional check-ins because students are just as stressed as I am about the challenges the past year has brought. When all of this is over, I believe I’ll be a better teacher because I’ve explored new ways to provide instruction and my students will also have adapted to become more independent learners with better skills in time management and technology. Until then, we’ll all continue to make the best out of this challenging year and roll with the punches.

Written by LPS teacher Alex Pinto, published January 20, 2021

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