English teacher Mrs. Riley teaches her senior elective Chicago Literature course and applies the technology skills she honed during remote learning to teach in person. (Milan Bishop-Sasaki)
English teacher Mrs. Riley teaches her senior elective Chicago Literature course and applies the technology skills she honed during remote learning to teach in person.

Milan Bishop-Sasaki

Back in School and Better than Ever

September 14, 2021

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students and staff have been learning from home for the last two years. This was a new experience for everyone that required many changes and adaptations to be enforced. The entire York community worked extremely hard to maintain normalcy and continue learning despite all the complications thrown their way, but everyone can agree that it’s nice to be back in person. 

Students and staff are back in school but they are not going back to their old habits. With all the obstacles thrown their way, last year teachers and students found new and exciting ways to learn that they are bringing back the new school year.  

“One of the benefits of last year’s mayhem is that teachers now have more tools in their ‘teacher toolbox’,” math teacher, Matthew Lamb, said This is true for technology and teaching styles. For example, I am now more comfortable recording lessons, using Google Classroom, and creating dynamic calendars for my students, among other things.”

Technology was used to its full potential during remote learning. Such as virtual experiments and simulations for science, fun youtube animations to give students different perspectives, many of these tools are continuing to be utilized despite returning to an in-person learning environment. These changes and advancements are not exclusive to academic classes. Many electives and arts courses found ways to apply new approaches and tools to their lessons. 

“Some things about my teaching have definitely changed since remote learning,” dance teacher, Annie Pinta, said. “I learned a lot about the technology I have access to on a daily basis and can use it more. One thing I still use even though we are in-person is Google Classroom. I never ever used Google Classroom before March of 2020 and now I use it for everything, every day.” 

Google Classroom is something that teachers school-wide learned to use, but many teachers found new resources and techniques that are unique to the individual courses they teach.

“Now I connect my music through Bluetooth to the projector and just mute the screen every day when I used to plug my phone in manually,” Pinta said. 

Getting through the past year was difficult but york made it to the other side better for it. Teachers have new techniques and ways in which they can communicate and aid their students. This is not exclusive to technology, however. 

“Teachers are aware of the social-emotional toll that last year may have had on students,” Lamb said. “Consequently, many teachers are trying to give students more time and space in class to feel the importance of being part of something bigger than themselves.”

Many teachers became more sensitive to the toll stress takes on a student’s life. Many teachers said that they felt being in person and being able to communicate with everyone face to face was very beneficial to students, both to learn information but also as part of their social and well-being.

“One of the reasons last year felt unnatural is that a particular element of learning was largely absent,” Lamb said. “As far as I can tell, many students are relieved to be able to interact with their peers about academic and non-academic matters.”

No one ever viewed in-person interactions as a luxury or something that would ever be taken away. Everyone took for granted how much easier and more fun learning was in person.

“Being able to move across the floor is something I took for granted until we were stuck in 6×6 squares all year,” Pinta said. “It makes such a difference in my own energy having all of the student’s energy in the classroom. It makes dance more exciting and keeps my own spirits and energy high all day.”

Face-to-face interactions are not the only thing that was taken for granted though. Even though remote learning brought many new procedures and methods, many people took for granted things such as physical copies of things like readings and worksheets. Everyone found a way to work with technology to progress while staying remote, but that does not mean that it was always liked or preferred. Many people got sick of sitting in front of a screen whether it be because their legs were asleep from a lack of movement, their eyes were tired from staring at a screen, or they simply wanted some change and variation in their learning experience. Many people got tired of doing assignments on a computer. 

“There are some things that I think paper copies are always better for, like journaling, reflecting, quizzes, things like that,” Pinta said. “Worksheets or things like that I like to do virtually on Google Classroom because they are easier and faster to grade. Mostly, though, I like giving you guys some time away from your screen whenever I can, so hard copies are my favorite.”

Some things like tests and quizzes were manageable online, but many students and teachers feel that paper copies make life much easier. Having the option of writing or reading a physical copy of something was greatly missed and everyone seems to be thankful for its return. Those are not the only things to be thankful to have back though.

“I have returned to how I taught before remote learning,” social studies teacher Michele Carlson said. “I walk around the room, I don’t sit behind my computer. I’m so happy to be back in person, I missed being able to see everyone and setting up my room in the format that I like.”

Last year many teachers felt confined to their desks and trapped behind a screen, unable to fully reach their students both physically and emotionally in the sense that many emotions and ideas cannot be conveyed in the same way without in-person interaction. 

“Being able to move across the floor is something I took for granted until we were stuck in 6×6 squares all year,” Pinta said. “It makes such a difference in my own energy having all of the student’s energy in the classroom  It makes dance more exciting and keeps my own spirits and energy high all day.”

Something as simple as getting to walk around the room and check up on students never seemed that important, but it has proven itself to be. The ability to talk to a teacher or student in person truly changes the learning experience and can even be vital to the learning process. 

If these last two years taught us anything, it is that York teachers and students are stronger than ever thought, and are capable of overcoming many different challenges especially when they work through them together.

“No student is an island,” Lamb said. “We are in this together.” 

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