Teachers are prepared to face a strange new year
On Aug. 24, teachers in Hillsborough county started off the first week of school facing an array of empty desks. Their attention was now focused on the computer screens in front of them, where they welcomed their new students over Zoom. Instead of hearing the chatter of students conversing about what they did over the break and how much summer work they still had to do, teachers were met with the symbol of muted microphones. They would then go on to give lessons to an empty classroom and hope that their students could see clearly what they were doing.
On Aug. 31, brick and mortar students returned to campus while e-learners remained at home. This brought on a brand new challenge for teachers, one they weren’t presented with the last nine weeks of the previous school year: How will they take on both modes of teaching?
“You basically have to plan twice,” psychology teacher Chelsea Oggero said. “You’re teaching online but then you’re also teaching brick and mortar, and then you have the hybrid classes, which is like another class all in itself. You need to try and make sure that you can get everything at once for everybody, so it’s a lot to plan.”
One step that Oggero is taking in preparation for her brick and mortar and hybrid classes is building in time into her lesson plans to have students be able to sanitize their desks and anything else that they may have touched. She also made the decision to have all of her students, not just the e-learners, submit their assignments virtually. This way contact is minimized as much as possible.
English and AP teacher Stefanie Zimmerman has come up with some innovative ideas for how to make her classroom as safe as possible for those returning to school.
“[While] I personally can’t stand rows, this year we have to set our students up in rows with distance between them” Zimmerman said. Something new that she is doing this year is putting yellow tape on every other desk. When students come in for first period they will sit at desks with tape on them. Then, the students in second period will only sit in desks without tape, period three would sit in desks with tape, so on and so forth. “This way it’s only three kids sitting at a desk all day as opposed to six.”
Mainly though, Zimmerman wants to make sure that her students are put in a fair situation, whether it be in terms of bringing in cleaning supplies from home or using their technology in class to possibly join Zooms.
One of her biggest concerns is that if she were to ask for people to volunteer bringing in cleaning supplies, she wouldn’t want to incentivize it with extra credit, because then it would put the students who can’t afford it financially at a disadvantage. She’s planning on asking students to bring in supplies while simultaneously making sure that they know that there is no punitive response if they are unable to.
AP European History teacher Michael Mikulec is trying to remain positive this year, as he sees negativity getting him nowhere. Mikulec is looking forward to the opportunity of color coordinating his masks and outfits. However, there are some concerns that he can’t avoid.
“My main stressful thing is trying to make sure that the e-learning kids don’t get shortchanged, being that they’re not here,” Mikulec said. “When it comes to teaching and everything I’m kind of still doing the same thing [as previous years], but just some kids are going to be here, and some kids are going to be outside of the classroom.”
On the other hand, he believes that this could also be a learning experience for those who aren’t returning to school brick and mortar. He’s hoping that with e-learners being taught over Zoom, they may learn to advocate for themselves when they have a question or need clarification.
Math teacher Sallie Rivers has been trying to figure out effective ways to implement social distancing in her classroom. One solution that Rivers came up with was taping around her desk so that students know where their limitations are in the classroom.
On the whole, she is trying to put the pandemic and the new teaching situation in the best possible light. She sees the external effects of COVID-19 as a means of growth.
“Here’s how I’m trying to look at it; There’s a caterpillar and through metamorphosis it turns into a butterfly. But in between, there’s this period where it’s in its chrysalis and it’s unclear as to what happens during that time. I feel like that’s us right now,” Rivers said. “We’re in this in-between period where we don’t know what’s going on, where everything is uncertain, but maybe something beautiful will come out of it.”