Although school resumed this fall and every day we try to get our lives back to "normal," there are still resounding impacts from pandemic learning.
One of our ESL teachers unexpectedly did not return for this school year, and I stepped into the role as ESL Social Studies teacher for the first few weeks of school. While being in person is overall better than being remote, teaching and learning in a post-pandemic classroom is exhausting. We no longer need to keep three to six feet between us physically at all moments, but masks are still mandatory. And trying to teach a language course when my mouth is hidden from view and surrounded by 15 students whose mouths are also hidden from view presents immense challenges. It is so difficult to project my teacher voice and call attention to the class when students are sneaking side conversations behind their masks. Additionally, trying to teach enunciation and teach pronunciation is all but futile. I find myself repeating things over and over, and asking my students to repeat themselves, just so we can try to communicate. It is mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting for all of us.
The effects of 18 months of remote and hybrid learning is also evident. As I prepared my first unit and was making copies before the first day of school, I walked back to my classroom with hundreds of photocopied papers in my arms. I realized I had not held such a large stack of copies in two years! I specifically chose to do our first unit on paper, because I knew the students had spent so much time connected to devices over the past two school years, I thought a return to tangible learning would be a great way to start. But when I looked at how many trees I had probably killed with all those copies, I though about how I can blend my pre-pandemic paper-based lessons with my post-pandemic tech-savvy students for future units this year.
My heart goes out to my 8th graders, for this is their first and only full year of middle school. Their 6th grade year of school was disrupted when schools closed in March 2020 indefinitely, their 7th grade year began completely online and then transitioned to hybrid in February 2021, and now they will finally spend 180 days within the school building, for the first time in three years. I asked them to do a writing assignment this week and when we were finished they complained their hands were so tired. I realized they probably hadn't hand-written an entire page of text in the past two years, maybe in their whole lives! Those are muscles we all must begin to build once again.
All of us have muscles in need of re-training this year. The hurdles facing us are grand, but anyone who survived pandemic learning can survive this. For these reasons, my classroom motto is "growing is hard and that's okay." This is a year of growing, but we will all be stronger on the other side.