When you return to the classroom this year, you may not be the same teacher who left.
These last 18 months were a little like teaching abroad in a new educational culture. Some things were better than expected; others were worse. But you likely learned a lot about yourself and your students, and about different teaching strategies. And some of what you learned may change what you do this year.
Further Reading: How to Beat Back-to-School Procrastination
Here are some things many teachers learned or improved upon in the last year that may stick:
Technology Use Cases
Many teachers will return to the classroom a lot more tech-savvy than before. Working remotely required learning tech skills not only to deliver instruction, but to message students individually, move them into workrooms, monitor discussion, and even test. Teachers added video clips to their remote repertoire and posted ways that students could check assignments and grades, turn in work, and schedule meetings with their teachers. Some of these practices will be useful in the classroom.
Being tech-savvy may also come in handy in the future. About 40 percent of schools plan to use remote learning for future inclement weather closings, according to The Atlantic. Only 20 percent of schools have said they won't teach remotely, and the rest are still undecided.
But Cindy Burau, a fourth-grade teacher in Lake Tahoe, California, described snow days to The Atlantic as "gifts from the heavens that we all need: a sigh, a moment." But whether you use your tech skills to enhance classroom teaching or remote teaching, you've got new strategies in your toolbox.
Curriculum and Instruction
School districts across the country saw drastic increases in failure rates during the pandemic according to The New York Times. No teacher wants to exacerbate the struggle of remote learning. Instead, they will try to adjust curricula to meet students' needs, focusing on essential skills and understandings. Teaching and reteaching may be necessary, and teachers may decide to quickly intervene with struggling students.
Heather Worley, a Chicago high school teacher, told Chalkbeat, "Everything I understand about how to stop a kid from failing involves being present with them. You can pull them out into the hallway. You can say: 'Hey, come here, you're staying with me for lunch, go get a sandwich, come back, we're going to do this until we get it right.'"
It's also likely that teachers will work to coordinate the timing of assignments, projects, or tests. And students are likely to give you more feedback in person than they did online regarding their workload.
No longer will you have the ability to simply mute students who are being disruptive! You may need more patience as students readjust to life at school. They may be anxious about low grades or failures or missed instruction during the last 18 months, and they won't want their peers to know if they are struggling.
Returning to school is a big transition for many students, says Dr. Neha Chaudhary, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. In an article for CNN, Dr. Chaudhary predicts that poor grades during remote learning will not suddenly improve, and students may find interacting with peers a little "awkward." Students' daily routines will change, and some may be anxious about health issues at school. The best thing for adults to do, Dr. Chaudhary says, is to set realistic expectations and anticipate that "getting into a new and stable groove will take time."
As always, connecting with kids to build trust is essential for learning. But you now know that getting to know students, building rapport, and even sharing something about yourself may take longer than it did before.
Given the uncertainty of what students know, you will probably check more often for understanding and ask for frequent feedback from your students. You can't help being more sensitive to what kids have been through, and you can't assume that everything's fine at home. Although kids are back in school, parents may not be back at work.
You know that some students experienced mental health issues while schools were closed, so you'll likely pay close attention to the well-being of your students. If you think a student is struggling, make sure you know your school's protocol for referring a student for counseling or other help.
Setting the Tone
It's tempting to hit the ground running on day one when you consider the learning loss many kids have experienced. But you may want to use a different plan this year, recognizing that kids really need to hear how happy you are to welcome them back and what a great year they're going to have.
Instead of spending the first day going over the rules and handing out books, you may plan a different teaching activity your students won't expect. Ask them questions like, "What's your least favorite chore?" or "If you could pick any pet, what would it be?" Hand out party-sized candy bars. Divide students into small groups and give each some Legos and a few minutes to build something imaginary.
You can distribute books and talk about what everyone's going to learn this year tomorrow. The first day is about making connections.
This is a new and different year, and it will require a few new and different teaching strategies or modifications of traditional ones. You'll need more time and patience, quicker interventions, greater support, and lots of encouragement.
Further Reading: Scenes from a Back-to-School Ritual (That Only Teachers Will Understand)
You learned new things about kids and yourself when you were teaching remotely. You know your students' frustrations and concerns. But you also know how badly they want school to be just a normal part of their lives again. Even if you're a different teacher this year, you are still the one who can make that happen.