By Vejay Steede
The traditional idea of “back to school” has taken on a whole new meaning in the era of COVID-19. With measures like maintaining bubbles, mask wearing, social distancing, and remote learning hanging over us like a dull, ominous ache, school is considerably less comfortable and accommodating than it was before this plague hit.
Yet society needs schools to function if normalcy is ever to prevail, and, yes, now we must get back to school again. We discussed how COVID-19 has changed education with a group of teachers and support staff:
Primary school Physical Education and Health teacher Ms Dunstan described how teaching has changed for her over the past 18 months:
“Teaching has been a lot harder in person due to the many restrictions we now have in the classroom. We no longer teach using best practice, which has been an adjustment in terms of planning and delivering lessons.
On the other hand, I’ve taken a few mini courses on delivering remote lessons, which has allowed me to expand my teaching skills.”
Ms Dunstan took a mini course in inquiry in PE, which she intends to use should a return to remote learning be required, and she feels very prepared to deliver her classes remotely if need be.
Regarding her confidence that we will be able to complete the 2021-22 school year without interruption, Ms Dunstan said, “I am hoping we get no ‘spikes’ that will have Government deciding to close schools.”
High school Educational Therapist, Mr Ball said: “Primarily, what has significantly changed for me over the past 18 months, is the number of students on my ET Caseload who have dropped out to attend alternative school which has significantly reduced my caseload numbers. As a result, much of my time as an ET now has been usurped by other administrative tasks and committees around school.”
On how the COVID-19 experience has enhanced his teaching toolbox, Mr Ball stated:
“The only new techniques that I’ve learned during this COVID period is my knowledge of the Zoom technology. For sure I will be utilizing this communication far more over the previous methods used for communication…I am far better prepared now to access it in order to facilitate communication with others should we have to shelter in place again.”
Mr Ball closed with scepticism for the immediate future though, “I do not feel confident at all that we are going to be able to proceed through the 2021-2022 school year without interruption. Things are still developing in the world around COVID-19 and other associated illnesses which suggests that the world is currently operating at the tip of the iceberg with a lot more potentially devastating concerns likely to develop this year that we are not yet close to fully understanding or describing.
Hence, to get through this coming school year unscathed and without any interruption, COVID related or otherwise, is unrealistic and it is really going to depend upon a hope and a prayer – and a lot of luck.”
Primary school teacher Mrs Pitcher spoke to the considerable challenges that teachers have been faced with since the onset of COVID-19.
“When it comes to teaching, teaching changes day by day, and as a teacher you are bent so many ways. Yes, within the last few months education has changed drastically. Educators must now know how to balance home life with their career at the expense of sheltering at home if need be and that has been very challenging. We have also had to learn several new ways to engage our students via technology and keep on top of the demands of administration.”
Mrs Pitcher described several innovations she intends to integrate into her teaching regime going forward.
“I do intend on using a more electronic approach to my teaching style such as using a variety of tools like Google Slides, Pear Deck, and Edpuzzle.com. All of these internet sites give a more interactive style to teaching where teachers and students can be more involved in a lesson as well as make formative assessment more engaging and creative.”
“I can say that I do have some tools under my belt to prepare for remote teaching, however as mentioned previously, things change in education all the time and teachers who want the best for their students will always be changing things and equipping themselves for whatever is to come, but I feel like no one is ever ready for change, we just ride the waves as they come.”
In closing, Mrs Pitcher added to the theme of scepticism: “I am not confident that we will be able to complete the year 2021-2022 without disturbances.
As I just mentioned, things change all the time and as educators in this era we must be ready to ride the waves because education changes every day.”
Educational Therapist’s Assistant Mrs Butterfield exuded positivity when discussing her plans to implement her new remote teaching skills going forward.
“Yes, I intend to continue using the new teaching techniques I learned this past school year. These techniques afforded me opportunities to productively and positively engage and support students remotely. Here are a few of the methods I used during remote learning for academics and behaviour:
• One-on-one teaching and learning using learning packages with WhatsApp for kinaesthetic and guided learning.
• Skyping and phone calls for oral discussion and checkins.
• YouTube for rhythmic, visual, and auditory memory.
• Raz Kids for interactive reading, listening, read along, and recall.
• Starfall, with visual and auditory animated introductions to phonics, word families, genres, and basic math skills.
• With Schoology and Booklet, I assisted the teacher and student with on-task behaviour, productiveness during learning new materials, revision, quizzes, memory games, isolated rooms for redirects, and one-on-one.
• Old fashioned games and Minute-to-Win It games required and encouraged positive problem solving and behavioural techniques that fostered patience, individuality, teamwork, accountability, social etiquette, and positive conversations while learning through failure.
“Looking at the 2020-21 school year with COVID-19, I hope that the learning curves and challenges of last school year are applied and will place us in better standing and more remotely prepared with up-to-date best learning practices for the upcoming 2021-22 school year.”