It’s been quite a year for teachers. When the pandemic first hit in the spring, it meant a quick change to online learning for the remainder of the school year. Now this fall, teachers have made some major changes to help get their students back in the classroom.
For 12 years, Jason Donnelly has spent his days teaching math to middle school kids in Harrisburg, but this pandemic has him back in the student’s seat.
“It’s like learning everything all over again; from procedures in the hallway to classroom procedures, to how we interact with learners, you’re thinking all the time,” Donnelly said.
The pandemic has forced Donnelly and many others to dig deep for creative solutions.
“Normally we’d be in tighter pods and now you see rows and they’re spaced out three to four feet, whatever we could get in terms of spacing,” Donnelly said. “Kids are also writing on their desks [instead of going to the board] so we’ve been really creative in how we put kids together.”
More than finding a creative classroom set up, this hands-on math teacher is also having to change the way he interacts with students.
“In the past if kids were struggling, they might hand me the marker and we might work there, so we try to avoid that sharing of resources, sharing of supplies, but I still go desk to desk,” Donnelly said.
Donnelly says teaching during the pandemic is a balance of providing his students high-quality care while also protecting his family back home.
“If that means wearing a mask, that means wearing a mask, if that means wearing a shield, that means wearing a shield, but I still need to be able to come when a kid raises their hand and be able to come and say, this is where you made your mistake and this is what we should do there and address it. I can’t do that from 20 feet away,” Donnelly said.
“It’s very, very different, a lot of the sports we play are very close contact, so we’ve had to adapt to spreading them out,” Harrisburg South Middle School’s PE teacher Brittany Roseberg said.
Roseberh has also had to get creative in her classes this year.
“Coming up with new sports we can play where they don’t share equipment , coming up with new workouts we can do where they’re kind of stationary in their spot but they can still stay engaged with,” Roseberg said.
Roseberg says she’s spending more time working outside the classroom this year.
“I’d put in all of the extra work to be able to be in building with the kids,” she said.
But the pandemic means more work inside the building too.
“We have a whole new bunch of kids in every period, so for us, a lot of sanitizer each time a new group is leaving, every piece that they’ve touched has to get wiped down, sanitized,” Roseberg said.
“I never thought in between class periods, I’d take my bottle and spray every desk. A lot of things you think when you start teaching, I didn’t think I’d be doing this. But its where we’re at,” Donnelly said.
A lot of extra effort mixed in with the weight of uncertainty.
“Stressful I think would be the number one thing. I think everyone gets a little bit of anxiety when you don’t know what’s going to happen. So that’s been the biggest thing and just understanding we don’t know, and that’s ok,” Roseberg said.
All of their time spent planning could change at a moment’s notice if their building gets shut down.
“How am I building this so that it’s accessible for everybody, for my kids that are here, for my kids that might be home, for kids that might be doing distance learning, so you’re evaluating on a day to day basis of every single lesson, how do I make this accessible for all of the pathways,” Donnelly said.
“So if tomorrow we have to start going hybrid or have to start going online completely, having a little bit of items already prepped for how that’s going to look,” Roseberg said.
Prepping for the pandemic to influence their classroom at any given time, while still sticking to the basics.
“The biggest thing that stays the same is what our job is: we’re here to build relationships with the kids and do our best to make them all successful,” Roseberg said.
Because even COVID-19 doesn’t change the passion teachers have for their students.
“When kids come into your classroom they need to feel safe, they need to feel welcome, they need that interaction and that’s not going to change. It’s a little bit harder, they can’t come into my class and see me smile now, so hopefully, they see my cheekbones rise,” Donnelly said.
Both teachers also had a positive outlook on the impact the pandemic will have on the profession, saying in the long run, it’s helping all teachers become more innovative and create some helpful tools that can be utilized for years to come.