Teaching During a Pandemic

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Lesley Chapman, OFLA Immediate Past President
French Teacher, Sycamore Community Schools

Recently, I received a text message from Kathy Shelton referring to the 2020 school year. It read: Tell me everything.  The good, the bad, and the ugly. My head started spinning. Where do you begin?  Is there good?  There’s a good deal of bad, and I am afraid much of the ugly has not even occurred yet. This got me thinking: what are the answers to those questions? What is the good, the bad, and the ugly of teaching World Language to high school students during a pandemic?

The Good?  I would start with the students.  At my school,  35% of students are staying home and the rest are as socially distanced as possible throughout the school.  Our administrative team worked tirelessly all summer to create a schedule where the at-home students and the in-school students would have parallel schedules.  We are live streaming our classes to our at-home students and using Google Meets to meet up every day.  Is it perfect?  No, but it is working. Students are coming to class well-prepared and ready to learn.  Are the students doing ok?  Yes, actually they are.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I feel like I am teaching the zombie apocalypse, but for the most part these teenagers are “all in”.  They are doing their best to adapt to an unprecedented situation, they are rolling with the punches while taking the pandemic seriously (mask issues are not a problem here), and they are incredibly kind and patient toward their frazzled teachers. We can learn a lot from this generation about being flexible and open to new ways of doing things. It is the students who make it a joy to come to work during a time fraught with uncertainty and stress.

The Bad? The “zombie apocalypse” that we must face every day. Yes, I just said the students were amazing. But they aren’t themselves. They are shells of themselves, yet many are trying desperately to show individuality from behind a mask. It seems these masks have literally clamped them down, shut them up. Obviously, to teach World Language to students who literally have their mouths covered and muffled is no easy task. To go beyond just the teaching and get students to come out of their shell is a daily challenge. Many of us in World Language Education are lucky enough to have repeat students, so that personal connection is already there. But for the “new to us” students, connecting has proven to be akin to a song-and-dance number a day, leaving us mentally and physically exhausted by 3:00 p.m. The connections will come, I am sure of it, but it will neither be as quick nor as natural as in years past.

The Ugly? I think the ugly lies in the unknown. How long will this last?  When can we be “normal” again? I think that not knowing what to tell your seniors about whether they will have a graduation or a prom is “the ugly.” Telling your family that you don’t “think” anyone at school has COVID but can’t be 100 percent sure, that’s ugly. Wondering how the students or teachers that are quarantining are doing, hoping they will come back healthy, that is part of the ugly, too. I try not to dwell too much on the ugly by looking at each day as its own challenge to get through and knowing that one day this will all be a memory.

I will admit that I was hesitant to return to the classroom at the start of this school year.  Most of the nightmare scenarios were playing out in my head as the school year approached.Three weeks in, I can say that it is going much better than expected.  Like all things, this too shall pass, but between now and then it is a relief to know we have a teaching community that understands how challenging this moment in our careers are. Together, we will get through this period with grace, perseverance, and more than a little humor. Until then, mask up!