Pandemic Perspectives: Impact on Educators

One of the professions most heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic is that of teachers and other educators. With the shift from regular school to virtual learning, and then from virtual to hybrid, it has been a difficult adjustment period for everyone involved, especially teachers. To
get a better understanding of how this crisis has impacted educators, I decided to sit down with Mr. Waite and Mr. O’Sullivan, two social studies teachers, to discuss their experiences while teaching during the pandemic.

1. Aside from the obvious fact that everything is virtual, what is the biggest difference in the way you teach during the pandemic versus how you normally would?

Mr. O’Sullivan: I’ve tried to as closely approximate virtually what I normally would be doing, but I realize that a lot of the productivity, meaning watching kids in class, is hard to do virtually. The dynamics of being with people is different – there are ways that you can connect together
that you can’t online.

Mr. Waite: I think if anything, one of the real benefits of teaching in virtual is that it has made me think more about how I teach. Even though I still lecture a lot, I’m still trying to move into doing more class discussions. I’ve stressed doing them more than I have in the past. I would agree with Mr. O’Sullivan that trying to create the classroom dynamics is difficult, and having to switch back and forth during hybrid has been an adjustment as well. I would say that we’re less changing our teaching styles than adapting and becoming more aware of things we weren’t in the past.

2. Back in March, when everything was just beginning to shut down, the way our online classes were taught was much different. What has changed in your online teaching strategy between last March and this year?

Mr. Waite: One thing I can say is that I was really worried about trying to do synchronous classes, like trying to teach each period. Looking back, I wish I did more classes on Zoom than trying to do asynchronous. Also, just the struggle of learning Schoology – it wasn’t just teaching virtually; we had to learn how to structure lessons within a block schedule. It was very painful at first, to be honest, but I think it’s put us in a better place. 

Mr. O’Sullivan: Both Mr. Waite and I had student teachers with us in March, and they were better than us at technology, which helped. I didn’t know how to use Schoology at all, and this fall was definitely a trial by fire. Elements of this virtual teaching will remain forever. I would say it’s a positive, though it hasn’t been comfortable. Things change every week.

3. How do you think this situation will affect your teaching in the future, even when everything is back to normal?

Mr. O’Sullivan: Mr. Waite and I have the benefit of also being students together. We are taking a class at West Chester University together with lots of other teachers at Kennett. We’ve been on the student side of things, which while imperfect, was a positive experience. I’ve tried to model
that, because we’ve learned as students what made classes more fun and interesting. I’m going to be more forceful with having more production in class in the future, however. Both Mr. Waite and I are very student-centric anyways, and we’ve got a lot of empathy for the kids. Teaching is an art and a science, and a lot of this technology stuff is not an art.

4. There’s been a lot going on in the news lately – what is it like having to go into class every day and keep teaching when there is so much chaos and division in the world? Is it difficult, or is it a nice escape?

Mr. Waite: I think we both pull in a lot of current events. We try to weave in a lot of what’s happening in the world, either more formally or informally just talking about it in class discussion.

Mr. O’Sullivan: The courses that I teach [Honors World Studies II and Economics] are all directly related. The election was very much about the economy, our job is to make students think about the issues, and not tell them what to think. It’s not to point fingers one way or the other, but to try to talk about it. Neither side is right, but we need to understand both sides to come to a solution. I follow the news closely, and it’s fascinating, and it is our job to share that with you guys.

5. What is something that you would like your students to know, specifically regarding virtual learning?

Mr. Waite: My non-politically correct answer would be that it stinks and it can’t replace being in the classroom. The situation is different for everybody, but in the end, we all just want to move forward. Not ignore the subject material, but to acknowledge what is going on in the world is important.

Mr. O’Sullivan: This is a remarkable time to be in education. To me, nothing is more important than my students’ well-being. My #1 goal is for my students to feel welcome and happy in this environment. That’s our job.

Portions of this interview have been edited and condensed for clarity.

— Blake Ciresa