How have teachers adjusted back to in-person learning?

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Owen McAdams

Business teacher Kurt Marx assisting a student.

Owen McAdams, Staff Writer

For Decatur teachers, the worst of the pandemic is behind them and they are happy to be back in school teaching in person. While the school year has only just begun, the difference between online learning last year and in-person learning this year are already noticeable for both teachers and students alike.  

Business teacher Kurt Marx is no stranger to challenges caused by virtual learning.  

“Student engagement was extremely poor, out of the ones that I was able to get into Zoom,” he said. “Many times, I would call on a student and they would not answer. This, along with not being able to assign hands-on activities and use non-digitized materials, made virtual learning difficult.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic forced Stephen Decatur High School teachers to be flexible and adaptable, whether using Zoom as a platform for class, or the use of Schoology to upload assignments. Now, with a majority of students now back in the classroom this fall, teachers again have been required to readjust back to a more normalized teaching experience. 

Under remote instruction, student attendance was a big problem, Marx said, with only about two-thirds of students even showing up for their Zoom classes. He also said he was shocked by the growing pains students felt with the sudden changeover from Dell laptops to iPads. e 

“One thing I would have never expected was the number of kids having technology issues,” Marx said. “Teachers having problems makes sense, since they have no experience with them, but most kids have had experience with this technology,” Marx said, adding that tech problems took away from a lot of instructional time.  

While there have been a lot of negatives, the pandemic has also brought with it some positives for teachers, which includes influencing how teachers incorporate technology into their lessons. “A benefit I’ve seen from the pandemic was a digitization of our curriculum. The cost-benefit of this is that we’re using a lot less paper, with many copies of worksheets and handouts not having to be made, and it adds up quickly. I’ve tried to meld together a system that incorporates both technology and hands-on activities,” said Marx. 

Students also suffered from a lack of socialization during the pandemic lockdown. To this point, Marx noted how a 2018 study from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia showed that the brains of mice shrunk by upwards of 20 percent when the rodents were isolated from one another for a period of time. 

While human brains are obviously much different from mice, the effects of isolation on the brain of a social animal are clear: it is safe to say when kids are behind a computer screen all day for school, it’s not good for their health. 

History teacher Laurie Chetelat said a lack of emphasis on helping students individually came to light during remote teaching. 

“While virtual, it was difficult to help students one on one, and they definitely struggled more because of it,” she said. 

For Chetelat, the biggest benefit she has seen with students returning to the classroom has been her ability to quickly adjust her lessons on the fly to accommodate for her students’ needs. She also saw a noticeable improvement in work being turned in by students as they returned to school for in-person instruction. 

“Being flexible with my lessons has been huge for helping students with what they don’t understand,” said Chetelat.  

Maintaining student motivation appeared to be a consistent problem felt by all teachers throughout the pandemic and accommodating for a lack of motivation come the new school year has been challenging on everyone involved. Students have also felt a large impact as a result of loss of motivation. 

For students like Senior Ed Gault, a lot of the struggles of online learning will be alleviated with their return to school.  

“The issue that I always had was that it hard to keep on top of everything,” he said. “It was a lot sometimes. I had problems tracking assignments and what I would have to do on a nightly basis. It made putting in the effort to do work that much more difficult.”  

However, the pandemic also presented an unforeseen benefit to him. 

“My grades definitely improved. It was much easier to get and maintain good grades in my classes just by showing up and doing my work. My teachers appreciated that,” Gault said.