By Brennan Murdock, Fri, May 7, 2021
HINESBURG – This year has been tough on all of us, and we’ve all had changes in our everyday lives. One of the largest topics that I’ve seen covered during this global pandemic has been how students like me feel about returning for the 2020/ 2021 school year. How our classes have been split up, how we have to wear masks, and how we have to take many other precautions that interfere with our education. As a student, I’ve heard all about that. What I haven’t heard about at all is what it was like for teachers to adjust to these huge changes in the classroom, to deal with split classes, shortened courses, and online work.
Has it been easier or harder? More or less stressful? I am curious about the pros and cons of teaching at CVU during the COVID-19 pandemic, and am looking to shine some light on how this school year has been for our educators. What was it like shortening courses, communicating with students while wearing a mask, dealing with online classes, and only seeing half of their regular students in person each day?
Jeff Hindes, a CVU Humanities teacher, described this year as “logistically challenging.” He compared shortening his course material to “creating an abridged version of a book”, where it was crucial to select the most important themes in order to still convey the same story, but in a smaller amount of time. Hindes also said that he personally doesn’t find wearing a mask to be much of a hindrance when teaching, but expressed some difficulty in communicating with students. “The biggest problem that I have is understanding students, particularly those who are already a little soft spoken to begin with.”
Here at CVU, students are split into two groups by last name. The first group has in person classes on Monday and Tuesday and asynchronous work on Thursday and Friday, the second group has the opposite schedule. On Wednesdays, however, classes are fully virtual and include students from both groups. This form of online schooling has been a big challenge for some teachers, but it certainly has its pro’s, too. “On Wednesday I have my Thursday/Friday and my Monday/Tuesday kids all in the same place, and so I can introduce a concept or introduce a project and then students can begin to work on it, and because they’re all in the same place at the same time, I only have to explain it once,” Hindes said. This is one of the best things about remote Wednesdays for teachers. It’s a perfect opportunity to provide instruction on upcoming or current assignments while all of their students are present at once. The downside is that most students and teachers are forced to sit in front of a screen all day long, which can get very tedious.
Separated students means much smaller in person class sizes, yet another strange adaptation brought to the classroom during this school year. Hindes stated that he doesn’t necessarily see this as good or bad, but “just kind of weird.” Some classes can be as small as four students, which definitely aligns with the phrase “just kind of weird.” While tiny classes are a lot to get used to at first, they can provide a much more focused class that can more easily adjust its pace to the needs of each student, since there are so few.
This year has had no shortage of stress for any of us. Most would say it has been much more stressful than previous years. However, Hindes’ response to this question came as a bit of a surprise. “I think all things being equal, the stress level is about the same as a normal school year, but the stressors are different, if that makes sense.” He went on to say that during a normal school year he has many more moving parts, and sees more students each day. So for Hindes, his work for school is less stressful than normal, but the added stress of a global pandemic brings it back up to a fairly regular level. He is hopeful that next year, things will be returning to a relatively normal state.
For me, this school year at CVU has just been different, rather than bad. It’s had its issues, but has ended up being a learning experience for everyone, even teachers. Through these huge changes, we’ve been able to more easily see what worked well and what didn’t, and hopefully move forward with the best of both worlds. With vaccines now being distributed and fully in-person school nearly in sight, we can finally have hope that the next few years won’t be quite so chaotic for our students and educators, or for the rest of the world.