The following is a summary of a conversation conducted on September 19, 2020 with a practicing teacher – Ms. K. She instructs grade 6 & 7 math and science at an independent school in Vancouver. I touched base with her in the midst of the first weeks of the new year about her professional philosophy and how she has adjusted to delivering instruction amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
*These responses are paraphrases based on typed notes designed to document the primary takeaways from our discussion.*
Can you describe your current position and school?
I work as a grade 6 & 7 math/science teacher at an independent school for girls. I began there 7 years ago as a intern/TOC and became a dedicated math/science teacher after a year. I love working with this age group and really feel supported and comfortable in the environment. The class sizes are generally smaller, there is a big emphasis on cocurricular activities and the school supports experimentation and remaining on the edge of pedagogy which is very rewarding.
How does teaching during COVID compare to your previous six years as a teacher?
This is certainly a year unlike any other. In some ways, I feel as though I’m a first year teacher again. It’s interesting for you – going into your practicum in this uncertain time. If you’re able to do well, survive and stay ahead of the game during these times you can do anything.
What rituals or norms have been disrupted by the pandemic? How have you replaced or altered them?
The main difference involves adhering to all the safety protocols. Much more of your time is now spent running logistics: many breaks, duties, supervision activities, cleaning activities, etc. As such, you will not be able to get through the same amount of curriculum. We’ve had to scale back the amount of content we want to teach in order to make space for the socioemotional support work we are doing.
I teach 4 cohorts, meaning that I am responsible for about 120 students. As such, I am not part of their cohort and cannot remain maskless. To remedy this, I’ve cordoned off a 6ft zone around the board and desk and spend much more of my time teaching from these spots. It’s a definite change, as I usually circulate much more. However, this is a way to avoid mask-fatigue.
Finally, in terms of relationships with colleagues, we have much less opportunity for spontaneous interaction. We mostly cloister up in our classrooms for the day. Therefore, I have had to go out of my way to touch base with staff and stay linked with my professional community. Making this effort is a very valuable gesture that helps us all get through.
Has COVID created new opportunities? Are there any unexpected positive outcomes from the pandemic?
The main positive outcome is the kids’ conduct in terms of the COVID protocols. They are so good at following the rules about hand-washing, mask-wearing and remaining in cohorts. It seems to me that they are just so happy to be back at school with their friends and will do whatever they can to avoid going to back to the online learning model that they experienced late last year. The kids are so resilient, learning to be adaptive and considering their relationship to things on a global level which is also a very powerful experience.
Some of the systems introduced during COVID have actually been helpful and may be valuable to continue moving forward. Specifically, it has become more of a norm to use Zoom conferencing with parents for conferencing and Q&A sessions. We saw in media that the pandemic has helped families to better appreciate the value of teachers and the socioemotional importance of schools. It’s good to see this shift.
Finally, do you have any useful advice for practicum or for the start of my career?
Practicum is hard – it is tons of work. Don’t be disappointed in yourself if you fail to meet your expectations. It’s a huge adjustment from the experience of teacher’s education classes and you will definitely have challenges. Remember to be transparent and honest with your learners – this will encourage them to want to learn and help them understand when you pivot to new tactics or strategies. I highly recommend taking time in the first weeks to co-create an essential agreement that clearly outlines the community guidelines. Have students see how much overlap in roles exist between the teacher and student so that they can appreciate the extent to which you are on the same team.
Become acquainted with the team at your school. So much support comes from fellow teachers. They will be so valuable in navigating the challenges and providing resources, unit plans and guidance.
When you’re seeking work, take advantage of the TOC list to survey schools. In a day of work, you can learn lots about the culture. I recommend you find a school where you love the culture because you will thrive there. Don’t settle on a space where you don’t fit – wait for the right administrative and departmental team.