With the first week of hybrid teaching under my belt, I can officially say that I am exhausted and excited at the same time. This week has been great. Being around people and being social were things that I sorely needed. I could never have continued online teaching as a full time job. However, everything is different, and we are having to adapt to a new normal as we deal with masks, socially distanced seating arrangements and a never ending cycle of communications with our students as they transition to online learning every other day.
Occasionally I will watch the show Alone on the History channel. It always amazed me at how many people would drop out of the competition because of social isolation. Now I get it. Even though I was almost never alone at home, I missed all things social, even being in meetings. I never realized how much I needed to reconnect with people until after the first day. Even though I was physically exhausted, I was emotionally recharged by the the connections and social interactions throughout the day, no matter how brief.
There are also quite a few positives to this new way of teaching. Probably the biggest positive that I have taken notice of is having smaller class sizes. It is saliently noticeable the higher level of engagement all students have when they are in smaller groups. We may actually have some teachers and students who complain at the end of all this when we go back to filling each room to capacity. It’s incredible how much more you can connect with kids. They are far more willing to ask questions and open up when the room isn’t packed with students who can overhear them.
On Wednesday one of my students completed his final course, a holdover from summer school, and was able to graduate. I can not even begin to express how excited I am that he was able to complete the work and is now on his way to a full time job.
Yet, not everything is all rainbows and unicorn ice cream. Some pedagogy and techniques are simply not adapting to the world we live in. For starters, student interaction is being impeded by the distance between desks and masks that muffle voices and stifle facial recognition and other nonlinguistic cues. Even with a room of 15 students, asking them to turn and talk to another student is going to take time and community building. All the personal bubble space of a quite conversation is gone. Now, they have to put themselves out there in ways that may seem socially dangerous to their lives. Another issue is in myself getting comfortable with the new norms, for however long they may last. It’s easy to look into the past and see how many things have changed almost overnight and think that this too will pass. But it is a completely different concept to live through such a change and adapt with it.