Education in 2020: Re-Learning Teaching

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By Julia Demskie, Staff Writer

When the world plunged into full lockdown just before the start of spring last year, no one could foresee the conditions schools would face upon coming back the next fall. The 2020-2021 school year has been one of unpredictable and dynamic circumstances for every student and teacher, and those at New Paltz High School have been no exception. Each member of the community has had their own experiences with obstacles unique to them, but the one thing all can agree on is the defining term of the year: a challenge.

Any student asked can have a conversation about all the struggles they have endured this year. Not only have they had to navigate an entire new learning environment from home, they have also been exposed to some of the most stress inducing global events that most have seen in their lifetime. There is no doubt that they have felt every negative impact the situation has brought about, but they are not the only ones who have been thrown a curve ball during the pandemic. Teachers of all subjects have each been impacted by the hardships of the time, having to figure out how to do their job effectively in a limited amount of time.

Naturally, one of the first issues to emerge was the actual teaching of content. While the district worked hard to develop schedules that would most benefit students despite the restrictions, every teacher struggled with ways to truly educate their students.

“When I was meeting with my students once a week, and we would come back a week later, the first part of class was reviewing the material from last week…I always found that, even when I thought the class was engaged and engaging, kids were just like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t remember,’” recalls Mr. Cook, a member of the social studies department at NPHS. 

A similar sentient was shared by Mrs. Russelello, who had to learn new ways to ensure her students in her Geometry and Algebra classes were understanding the curriculum. This led to her exploring digital programs like Nearpod to watch her kid’s progress live. She also recognized the importance of repetition in student’s learning, especially in her classes.

“Students need homework and practice in math… I was just talking to someone online… (who said that they) need practice, and that’s the second time I’ve heard that today,” she stated. 

An entire new set of challenges faced the teachers of more creative subjects, especially those of the music department. 

“Trying to teach music, especially the first quarter when everyone was remote, and knowing that I wouldn’t actually be able to hear any of my students, and be able to give them any valuable feedback because I’m not hearing them, I started to really think differently about what I’m teaching and how I’m teaching it,” explained Mrs. Foti, the director of the New Paltz High School choir. Mrs. Foti also teaches a Voice class, as well as Music Theory at the school.

The most widespread challenge, though, was the lack of emotional connection that teachers were able to make with their students this year. Between limited time spent live in each class, and the various barriers the remote learning environment created between participants, the impact of the lack of meaningful relationships was felt by everyone.

“I started teaching, and I have 7 kids, because I just love kids. Teenagers especially, I feel are just at an age where you can relate to them… So I felt really emotionally detached in a way that I didn’t want to be. It hurt that I wasn’t there,” Mrs. Ruselello reflected. The absence of such contact is one that students were also especially aware of, feeling a great loss in the overall experience of school that contributed so much to being able to enjoy coming into the building.

Mrs. Foti reinforced those feelings, reminiscing on the importance of the sense of community the members of her choir build throughout the school year. With so much physical distance between each other, she was deeply affected by the space created socially.

However, with challenging experiences comes opportunities for growth and progress. This past year has left many teachers with ideas of how to move forward in terms of education, and how to make a more enriched environment for their students. One of the resources many people found helpful this year was Google Classroom. 

“My physical organization is my greatest challenge (in general). Keeping papers together, keeping the classes together… So having the digital organization that it provides has been great,” explained Mr. Cook.

The shift to paperless has proven much easier for most academic courses, while both aiding in organization and the development of crucial technological skills that will only become more useful as time goes on. 

An even more universal feeling is the great appreciation that has been developed for the traditional form of education. Students have become more appreciative of the contact with their teachers, and teachers have realized just how important their relationships with the kids in school is to making their jobs so rewarding.

“The most important thing I’m going to bring forward is just to appreciate the time I have with my students,” emphasized Mrs. Russelello.

This is a general truth that has become increasingly clear to everyone, in far more contexts than just school. People have had ample time to reflect on normalcy, and the things they used to take for granted. Overcoming the obstacles created in the most simple tasks this year has brought to light not only what was overlooked, but what people believe themselves to be capable of.

“Everything has taken an infinite amount of more effort, and time, and brainpower. That’s certainly something I will remind myself of in the future when I get stressed… Look at what we got through. This is a piece of cake,” concluded Mrs. Foti.

Featured Photo: Aidan Sheedy