Reflections on impact of pandemic on learning

Jace Bovee, Reporter

Many teachers, at the onset of the pandemic, struggled to reform their classrooms to online learning overnight. The transition back into the classroom has proven to be equally challenging.  

One of the many difficulties teachers report is keeping their students engaged in learning. 

”I struggled to keep students engaged due to technology and cameras being off, unable to truly see if students were paying attention,” math teacher Natalie Montoney said.

During the pandemic, many teachers had to learn an entirely different way of teaching and modifying their curriculum.  It proved to be exhausting to students and teachers alike. 

The workload was expected to decrease after students were given the option to return to the classroom with masks, but this was not the case.  

Some teachers tried to continue using tools and resources that they picked up during the pandemic.  One such resource was Pivot, a lab simulator, used in the physics classroom.

“I’m still trying to figure out what the happy medium is,” physics teacher Mark Jedel said.

Jedel reports that he typically used a whiteboard for visual demonstrations in his classroom. He calls this his “thinking space,” but due to the camera resolution and technology issues, he was unable to use this tool while teaching online. 

Jedel turned to new technology to resolve this.

“Physics is very hands-on depending on the unit,” Jedel said. “Without letting students engage with a physical medium it was really difficult to get across concepts.”  

Zoom was another tool teachers used in order to adapt to the sudden restrictions placed on Illinois schooling in March of 2020.  

Principal Andrea Markert said that the use of Zoom was a quick strategy put into place when the pandemic hit to allow students and teachers to stay home and feel safer in uncertain times.

Jedel was overwhelmed by the prospect of teaching and parenting his child while being in lockdown.  

He reported that teaching from home was a relief at first due to his son being less than a year old and his concerns for his family’s well being.  

“My son was not able to be vaccinated,”Jedel said.

Even after returning to school was an option, Jedel decided to take family medical leave to continue teaching from home to keep his family safe. 

For many, Zoom quickly waned in popularity.

Activities and Athletic director Steve Evans said in the long term he would rather be face-to-face. 

Assistant principal Michael Shanley agreed, stating, “I hope I never have to use Zoom again.”

According to Montoney, support for teachers varied from one semester to another as they worked to translate curriculum to online learning.  

“There were a few faculty meetings where we talked about ideas for online learning,” Montoney said. “But mostly we were on our own.” 

Jedel laughed as he said, “We tried our best! We all struggled.”  

He reached out to other departments, but as the lone physics teacher his curriculum was unique. He said he leaned on the other sciences to bounce ideas off of.

Even as we have returned to school, there are many ways in which teachers and students are still transitioning. 

While being online students had an hour and a half for each class and were able to use the time wisely when a test rolled around. Now that students are back to a 55-minute class period, many face the issue of time constraints. 

Montoney said she addresses this issue by letting students have extra time on their tests and hopes that now if she slowly decreases the amount of extra time that students get then they will adjust back to a normal schedule. 

 “It (the time extensions given during online learning) had a lot to do with (the fact that) we were trying to be very understanding from the difficult circumstances,” Montoney said. “For me, typing in an answer takes way longer than writing it out on paper.”  

No one knew what to expect from this online learning experience. Expectations shifted and now teachers and students are undergoing the transition back to in-person learning.  

“It was a highly reflective year,” Jedel said.