500 Words

500 Words On...Teaching During a Pandemic

In this issue, we have broken with our tradition of featuring just one author. We thought by offering the perspectives of teachers in each of our divisions would highlight what is the same or what is unique in classrooms from our youngest to oldest students. 

Rebecca Reátegui, Junior Kindergarten Teacher

Connection has always been at the heart of our Early Childhood classrooms.  As we teach in-person and remotely, we know creating and maintaining connections is more important than ever. Not only is the teacher/student connection essential for learning, but much of our days are spent learning how to connect with one another. We explore how to read our friend’s emotions, and the give and take of collaborative play. These early social connections build friendships and long-lasting relationships.

In a time when so many of the usual and comfortable forms of connection are limited—hugging, smiling, sharing—we must reinvent the ways we connect with one another.  Instead of a hug, we open our arms and send a distant hug to one another. Rather than seeing joy in a smile, we find happiness in the eyes. Our sharing now comes in the form of explaining our creations and inviting our friends to make suggestions. Despite these new limitations, we are discovering new ways to connect. And, we learn from the children who are naturally drawn to explore and to connect, even and especially during these unique times. These marvelous moments of connection create strong, healthy relationships.

Scott Whisler, Middle School Science Teacher

Teaching during a pandemic has only strengthened my belief that a successful class starts with relationships, trust, and a sense of safety first. I have taken to beginning class with a well-being check, a funny anecdote, or a moment of calm. These routines have gone a long way in continuing to build and strengthen the foundational relationships so important to a successful school. 

I have continually witnessed middle school students adapt to this new way of doing school. When a student joins a class remotely, I am filled with joy as the students in the room enthusiastically welcome them to class. 

Collaboration has been challenging, but I know I can lean on the endless creativity of my colleagues and students for ideas on how we can still make it work. This time has been filled with endless uncertainty for our students, yet one thing remains the same, at North Shore there is a community of educators and peers ready to support them at every turn.

Joan Ryder, Upper School Chemistry Teacher

While teaching during a pandemic is filled with uncertainty, some worrying, and many new challenges, there are also several bright spots. Social distancing and remote learning have forced us to reconsider every aspect of our practice. While that takes an incredible amount of energy and hard work, as teachers, we know that these challenges have also provided us with fantastic learning opportunities.

When we’re in-person, the anticipation of a shift to remote learning can be anxiety-provoking. Still, this anticipation also makes the moments where we can share the same space with our students so much more meaningful. It serves as a reminder of how powerful the work we do can be. We must prioritize the parts of our curricula that are taught best when students can manipulate materials and work alongside their peers and teacher. Additionally, we must be more critical of lessons or units that don’t maximize the benefits of in-person learning or support the course goals particularly well.

Knowing that our in-person time was limited made me more present. I was more thoughtful about the idea that every interaction with students is a relationship-building opportunity. Because student-teacher relationships are the cornerstone of the work we do, I hope that the strength of those relationships can get us all through many of the difficult aspects of remote learning.

I’ve also used pandemic teaching as an opportunity to become a more empathetic teacher and colleague. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by working with two devices and simultaneously trying to scan my students’ faces over Zoom, I try to remind myself that students who struggle with executive functioning might feel this way for a considerable chunk of the school day. When I’m worried about close family and friends’ health, I try to remember that many of my colleagues and students might feel the same way.

"500 Words" is a series authored by faculty, staff and others in the NSCD community highlighting the school’s culture, philosophy, pedagogy and characteristics that distinguish us from other schools.