Return to In-Person School Proves to Be Chaotic for Teachers

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After nearly a semester at school, the challenges that arose from the shift to in-person learning continue to impact teachers, who have had to adapt to offline instruction in a time of great uncertainty. Many teachers feel overburdened by large caseloads and staffing issues, and some are proposing instituting a block schedule akin to the system Berkeley High School (BHS) had during distance learning.

Whether any changes to school protocol will be instituted remains to be seen. In the meantime, teachers will be forced to grapple with the unique hardships this school year has brought. 

Carrie McKee, a global history and Berkeley International High School (BIHS) economics teacher, said, “Distance learning was a challenge in many ways. The lack of structure and the impact on mental health were significant for many students.” All of the challenges created by distance learning were compounded by the pandemic, which made for much uncertainty and stress.

The return to school was highly anticipated by students and staff, who were eager to get back to something resembling normalcy. “In some ways, it was so great to be back in the classroom with students, and to collaborate with colleagues in person again,” said McKee. “I had forgotten the grind of the six-period day. It was definitely an adjustment coming back.” Besides feeling unprepared to return to a six-period class schedule after a year with a less-demanding block schedule, teachers also struggled with other aspects of the transition to in-person learning. 

School staff are struggling with how to teach in-person while still being mindful of the ongoing pandemic. “We’re having to deal with life, while still dealing with masks, vaccinations, and testing,” said Richard Conn, an art history teacher at BHS. While everyone is anxious to return to life as it was before the pandemic, teachers still have to be cautious about doing so. The pandemic is still a matter of enormous concern for staff, who must ensure that no one gets infected. 

 According to Leah Alcala, a math teacher in the Universal Ninth Grade (U9), “To come back and still be unsure about how healthy and safe it would be, and how the kids would react, was very nerve wracking.” This pandemic-caused uncertainty made the teaching environment more challenging, and was compounded by some of the other chaotic elements at the start of this school year, including fire alarms, which caused difficulty for staff.

“I think the hardest thing has just been the chaotic nature of the school itself,” said Conn. “I feel that a lot of this year has been more ad hoc than I would want it to be.” 

Some teachers say that this has made teaching more taxing, as instruction is impeded by factors that are outside of their control. This has forced staff to focus efforts on their own students, as they have not had much energy to spare on wider concerns involving the whole school. According to Conn, “It’s pushed me, for good or bad, to become a little more isolated … I know that there is a world of chaos happening right now outside of my four walls, but I feel like the most I can do right now is just deal with [my students].”

However, it is not just the teaching environment that has become more fraught with adversity. Students themselves were also affected by the pandemic.

With students not being in person for a year, some teachers have tried to adapt their curriculum to make up for lost time. “Teaching tenth graders who were not on campus last year, I’m trying to keep that in mind and hit foundational concepts harder this year than maybe I would have last year,” said McKee. 

Many teachers are now faced with having to teach students who learned very little over the year of distance education. “The kids who tuned out last year are at a huge disadvantage this year, as I try to catch them up and teach them the new curriculum,” said Alcala.

Many teachers have been trying to make up for this by providing flexibility for students adjusting to in-person schooling. “A lot of teachers are doing … flex days, where they give students work periods to catch up on work because six periods is a lot of work,” said McKee. 

While life at this moment may seem difficult for everyone, a return to in-person schooling could be less tiring. “While I might be slower, I also want my kids’ lives to be slower. … I’m sure that they’re all stressed and anxious as they try to deal with the issues life poses,” said Conn.