The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the way students study, by making them go to classes virtually or in a hybrid mode. Teachers at Concord Academy and around the world have experienced similar struggles,having had to adapt new strategies of teaching and find new ways to bond with students, in order to overcome the challenges brought on by this new class environment.
The most significant challenge that teachers face is bonding with students. “At times, I felt disconnected with the students,” commented Thomas Mandala of the Modern and Classical Languages Department. He gave group discussions as an example: “In the classroom, I can see all the groups at the same time, but that is not possible in the zoom breakout rooms now. I usually think to myself: ‘Are they still working? Or are they talking about something else?’” This sense of disconnection from the students adds extra stress to the teachers in class, especially in Mandala’s asynchronous classes, where he sends videos and homework to the students and only gets to see them once a week.
Emma Storbeck of the History Department expressed a similar opinion. She thinks that “over zoom, people tend to be shyer or quieter so you don’t necessarily know [whether] did that person understand what we’re talking about today or did that person have questions that they didn’t ask, particularly if I can’t see you or I’m not hearing from you.” She finds it hard to “feel a connection and feel whether a student needs help or whether a student is understanding,” and that “feeling disconnected from one another has created all of those tiny challenges, but they build up into a big one.” As the bonds between students and teachers weaken, it is much more difficult for the teachers to have successful classes. It is simply harder for people to connect with each other over zoom compared to a normal in person class.
Another difficulty teachers faced in the past school year is the change of teaching strategies, which has greatly increased the amount of work they needed to do. Mandala thinks that he has to do more “behind the scene work.” “I had to learn how to use apps, and how to make them interesting so that [the class] doesn’t seem boring to the students.” As a member of the Math Department, George Larivee also experienced this augmented workload. To keep the remote Math classes more engaging, Larivee made videos for the students to watch instead of simply lecturing. He said: “I made 400 videos. That was a lot of work. I made all those videos and asked the students to watch those. In class, they worked with each other. That worked really well.” He also gives students “homework quizzes” for them to work with each other in class and grade them almost everyday. Despite the extra amount of work, he is satisfied with the result: “[The homework quizzes] work really well. I think the homework quizzes made the students interact with each other, especially those who are in class. It was terrific.”
However, this pandemic did not solely bring challenges to the teachers at CA. It has also provided opportunities to learn and grow. Because it’s impossible to have activities that involve touching, Mandala created a new activity called la Cartes d’Identité in which the students show pictures they took throughout the week and present the events that happened. In this activity, “students become teachers and have something that they create themselves.” He is likely to keep this activity for his future classes. George Larivee cited the potential benefits of the videos he recorded for virtual classes could bring in the future: “I think all those videos that we made this year, we’re gonna be able to use them in future years. Years ago, when a student missed class, we’re like: ‘well, get the notes from somebody else.’ Now it’s like: ‘you don’t have to get notes from somebody else, you can watch a whole video on it! And it’s me!” The “huge set of videos” created by Larivee and his colleagues are now available to students for various situations.
This year has been difficult for all of us, especially teachers who have needed to adjust their teaching according to the constantly changing environment. Hopefully, as the pandemic gradually ends, we’ll be able to return to normal classes with all of the things we’ve learnt from this pandemic and together discover new forms of teaching.