Change In A Time of COVID: Teacher Perspective

    What Is Happening?

    coming back
    ELHS teacher, Mercedes Czlapinski’s shirt gives voice to the early days of coming back to the 2020-2021 school year. (Photo by Erin Towns)

    “Hybrid. You will have three sections, A Cohort, B Cohort, C Cohort.” This is where the conversation started. I remember my chest getting a bit tight. “A yearly class will now be 18 weeks. A semester class, 9 weeks.” Ummmm. What? I have a bit of content that students ABSOLUTELY NEED! “Monday, Tuesdays, remote Wednesdays. Thursday, Fridays.” What about students that need to be here? What about mental well being? Isolation? The general themes of the next weeks were to be a mix of trying to accept a new normal and supporting our students to the best of our ability when surrounded by abnormal circumstances.

    Getting Ready

    No Fly Zone
    Vice Principal, Darren Avery puts down tape to indicate the “No Fly Zone” that keeps students 6 feet apart while walking down the hallway. (Photo by Erin Towns)

    We spent the next days and weeks taping one way hallway directions, examining existing curriculum, and rearranging rooms to keep students and staff six feet apart. I picked up a new job as a lunch delivery lady to students who would now be eating in classrooms instead of our crowded basement cafeteria. Staff meetings that were now outdoors addressed mask protocols, sanitation SOPs, and Zoom rules. They were followed by department Zoom meetings and small groups of teachers working on yet more curriculum modifications. “Our students deserve more than this!” Tensions ran high and people were legitimately very nervous at the thought of being in rooms with students again. Teacher feelings reflected safety concerns of students and the reality of a larger possibility of students and teachers contracting COVID. It also had been a long time since last March. “Did I forget how to teach? I feel like I have.”

    Design on the fly
    "The new camera systems have been installed for remote learners. No, no there are no handbooks yet. Design on the fly. We can try to get you something before school starts.” (Photo by Erin Towns)

    Change Is Hard

    Grading and attendance were topics that created a lot of heated debate among staff. The look on the administrators’ faces was one of frustration as their carefully thought out plans became the subject of loud complaints. “What??” became the most repeated word. “I can’t freaking hear anything over that fan.”

    air circulation
    Open windows with newly purchased fans for every classroom help with air circulation. (Photo by Erin Towns)

    Everything changed. But like most things, wonderful things started to appear out of chaos and confusion. Younger teachers helped older ones navigating technology they had not previously used. The English Department made the administrators dinner. People figured out the camera systems and helped others in the building. Fruitful conversations were taking place in every area of study about what was truly vital knowledge and how to best teach it.
    We are seven weeks into our year. Things have smoothed out and as it turns out, we still all know how to teach. Confidence is returning even though many teachers have voiced that it feels like they are first year teachers again. New schedules seem more normal and opportunities abundant to link students with the real world. As for my classes, a whole new world has opened.

    A New Plan

    a new perspective
    ELHS sophomore student sketching a new perspective on the world. (Photo by Erin Towns)

    For the first time in my 21 year career as a social studies educator, I designed an interdisciplinary curriculum around one of the largest geopolitical issues in the contemporary world, The Arctic. The posts that will follow over the next year will focus on interdisciplinary content related to the Greenland Subglacial Tremor Project, climate change, glaciology, hydrology, history, foreign policy, and visual arts. Posts will discuss outreach plans and professional organizations that we are connecting with and will show how we are disseminating successful classroom and curriculum strategies and recommendations based on trial and error to educators and community members across Maine and the nation. We are going to show you what we are doing and how we are doing it.

    In 1885, Thomas Edison wrote in his diary that “restlessness is discontent - and discontent is the first necessity of progress.” Indeed sir.

    Edward Little High School
    Weather Summary
    A mix of clouds and sun. A few flurries or snow showers possible.
    Wind Speed
    NW at 10-20 mph


    Erin Towns

    Cohort A - attends in person on Monday and Tuesdays. Cohort C joins remotely from home. Cohort B - attends in person on Thursdays and Fridays. Cohort C students who did not attend class on Monday or Tuesday join remotely from home. No one is in the school on Wednesdays. We connect with students remotely from home. It sounds complicated and it was hard at first.

    William Henske

    We are all virtual until January. Thats when we will switch to this model. I will need to hit you up for some tips on planning lessons and simulcasting my classroom. Keep us up on how its going.

    Jonathan Pazol

    My blood pressure went up just reading the description of your teaching plan because my mind immediately tried to rearrange my own teaching for the 4th time this year. We switched from a 7 period to a 6 period schedule (virtual PE), which changed many of our preps 6 weeks before school. 3 weeks prior, we switched to a 3 period block semester of 9 weeks. We planned for a 25% and 50% hybrid, then we went remote. Now we're in our 2nd run through of 1st semester and we are supposed to go back at 50%; however, cases are rising, so we may now be fully remote once again. I feel your frustration, but I also feel your hope.

    Your photos are haunting. I love them.

    Erin T

    Wow. That is a lot of change in a very short time. Incredible however just how resilient teachers and students are. Keep it up friend. You are doing a smashing job :)

    Kathy Ho

    Love your photos, Erin!! They really give a visceral punch to your story. I can't imagine how hard it must be to juggle the hybrid model... my classroom is closed for the school year. I hope, with the weather getting colder, that you are all staying safe!!