When the Covid-19 pandemic upended the school year, Concord Academy switched gears to hold classes and activities online. With students scattered all over the globe, limited class time, and social distancing measures, the administration has had to make incredible efforts to transition from classroom learning to online learning. Despite this, CA’s faculty and staff worked swiftly and tirelessly over spring break to rework all of CA life. This past week, I interviewed teachers to find out what it is like for them to be on the other side of your Zoom screen.
Synchronous Zoom sessions are taught in “real-time”. Despite being isolated behind screens, classes, clubs, teams, chapels, and meetings have all met this way. In order to accommodate students across all time zones, academic classes can only be held once a week so that schedules could fit as many “live” classes as possible. Teachers have had to carefully evaluate lesson plans in order to cover as much material as possible in a one hour block. That is as “live” as possible compared to the usual pre-COVID 75-minute blocks. The rest of the classwork is assigned asynchronously, meaning that students can work on it whenever they want, as long as it’s submitted by the due date. Cutting 15 minutes from each block and only offering class once a week has resulted in a significant loss of teaching time.
Faculty are adapting in different ways. Ed Rafferty, a history teacher, has adapted to this condensed teaching by cutting assignments into smaller pieces. He also shared that it has encouraged him to write more specific instructions.
“I am forced to write descriptions of how to do certain things, which really makes you think ‘what do I really want to do?’, and how do I explain this when I can’t talk to you? I think that it’s been the best thing because you really have to think hard about what you’re trying to get across.”Ed Rafferty
John Pickle, math and science tutor in the ASC, has been hosting one-on-one Zoom sessions. “I find it fascinating that students’ voices come through clearly [through Zoom]. I don’t mean their physical voice, but their emotions and thoughts. They seem to have the time to process things a little differently than in a classroom.”
Pickle finds that teaching online isn’t as different as he thought it would be, “There are some basic fundamentals, one is to be very clear, and to be – I’m trying to work on this – more and more explicit in expectations and in the thought process.”
I asked Claire Nelson, head of CA’s history department, whether she thinks online learning is beneficial or detrimental to schools in general.
“To the extent that it allows schools to maintain some continuity of community and curriculum through a pandemic, it is good. If it can inspire students to embrace self-directed learning, and faculty to experiment and innovate in productive ways, then it can be really great…but all these things would be better if they happened in person!” What frustrates Nelson is that many resources she typically uses in her classes aren’t available digitally. She has had to explore new technology and is using this time to re-envision her class activities.
Outside of work-life, teachers have been savoring their new-found downtime. Like the rest of us, they have been watching a lot of Netflix, trying out new recipes, reading, going on walks, and spending time with their families. While they’re enjoying the peace and quiet, teachers also miss the bustle of the full and lively campus.
“[I miss] seeing students and colleagues everywhere – in my classroom, most obviously, but even in the hallways and the Stu-Fac, hearing you all yelling inappropriate things in the hallways as I try to work in my office…I miss you all!” Nelson shared.