What Will Become of Our Post-Pandemic Programs?

Lesley Chapman, OFLA Immediate Past President 2019-2020
French Teacher, Sycamore Community Schools

Congratulations, everyone. You have officially made it through your first full semester of teaching during a pandemic. Whether that teaching has been face-to-face, hybrid, live streamed, or a combination of any or all of these, you have persevered and made it to the (hopefully) half-way mark. But our next challenge lies ahead as students choose their schedules for the 2021-2022 school year. How do we mitigate the damage that this year has done to our programs? How will we encourage frustrated students to remain in our programs? How might this year affect our programs in years to come?

Let me start by explaining my current teaching situation. In my district, we are teaching face-to-face every day, while simultaneously livestreaming to the 35% of the student body who chose to stay home. In some of my classes, this amounts to almost 50% of my students. Now that I have taught like this for a semester, I can safely say that the difference in learning between these two groups of students is startling. This is not a judgment call on those who decided to stay home, it is just a fact: learning from home is much more difficult; those students are far less engaged; and many more of them are struggling in comparison with my face-to-face students. 

Fast forward to this week when I discussed next year’s scheduling with my students. In my upper-level classes, I usually have approximately a 90% retention from year to year. This year, I have an unprecedented number of students — mostly the remote students — who have chosen not to go on.  I have tried to explain to them that once they are in the classroom they will probably feel much better, but that won’t be until next year and those students don’t want to take the risk to their GPA. In addition, some students dropped my class during the first semester.  I have lost a small number of students every month and am losing more during the semester change. This is a new phenomenon this year, and I understand the pandemic has added an incredible amount of stress to our student body, which is driving these decisions.

My colleagues and I continue to reach out to students who seem to be falling behind, offering online tutoring whenever necessary, and creating assessments that in no way resemble what we would do in a normal year. But the damage seems to be done, so we must look forward to next year. How will we approach the 2021-2022 school year in a way that will accommodate the needs of the students that remain in our programs? How will we bridge the gap between those who stayed home and those who were face-to-face? And to further complicate things, we realize that the effects of this pandemic year will be felt for years to come. Ours is a cumulative discipline, where skills build upon each other.  The skills that are lost this year will take time to rebuild and perhaps put us in an uncomfortable space for years to come. 

I am convinced that the days of comparing where we are today with where we “should be” are over and will be over for the foreseeable future. Our job is to do our best to encourage students to stay with us, to give them the energy and positive feedback that they need, and to understand that this situation will have lingering effects when it is over and not just be a bad dream. In order to maintain our rich and developed language programs, it is up to us to teach with empathy and realism, slowly but surely putting our programs back together, so that we will eventually reach satisfaction with wherever we land.