In February, my school began the transition from online learning to in-person. This was a tremendous relief as we had been teaching through Zoom for almost two years. I couldn’t wait to be back with my students and engaging in some face-to-face fun.
During the two years we were online, I had made some significant changes in my instructional practices, especially in terms of the students’ social-emotional needs. The pandemic lockdowns, in addition to the specific challenges here in Myanmar, required me to adjust my usual game plan. For instance, I had built in more time for connecting as a community and I was much more compassionate when it came to behavior, participation, and work due dates.
But, now that we are back in the classroom, my anticipated quick and easy transition back to “normal” is turning out to be neither quick nor easy.
Here are some of the interesting things I am noticing:
Working While Multitasking
During online learning, students clearly took advantage of being on a device (without supervision) and began to accompany their classroom responsibilities with all sorts of side activities. And I was aware of this while teaching via Zoom – students not responding to direct questions, comments accidentally posted on the Zoom chat that were meant for their Discord conversations, the glare of Netflix shows reflecting on student glasses while they were supposed to be working, etc.
When we returned to school, I assumed this multi-tasking would simply end.
Wow, I was so wrong.
The habit of juggling multiple activities became so ingrained that students have brought it into the classroom and will openly attempt to engage in them right in front of me. I can’t believe I have to ask students to remove their headphones in class. And they didn’t even have the courtesy to use those discreet ear-buds – this student was putting on a giant pair of bright red Beats. And, in the past, students were very careful when using their phones in class, obscuring their behavior under the desk. Now? The phones are blatantly out in the open.
It seems like since the lockdowns, every available second of a student’s attention needs to be filled with entertainment. Finished writing a response? Quick, go to Spotify and start that playlist! Completed those notes? Time to continue watching that Netflix show!
Forgetting the Meaning of ‘Personal Space’
Pre-online learning, students saw the classroom as a space that was distinct from their home. They understood that the expectations in this public space were different from those in their bedroom at home. But, since we’ve returned I’ve had to remind several students that they can’t just get up and turn off the A/C when they feel cold. There are other people in the room, perhaps you should ask first? And, students seem to forget that a teacher’s stuff is private. I can’t believe I have had to ask students not to go poking around in my desk drawers or cupboards.
Remembering What is Appropriate in Public
Now that students are back together, they need to remember the rules regarding how to interact appropriately in public. Play fights (bordering on Fight Club) between the boys are a regular occurrence during break and lunch blocks. And, couples have forgotten that particular displays of affection are not cool for school.
Perhaps the behavior glitches are not a matter of forgetting how to be appropriate, but more a reflection of their excitement about finally being together after so long a time apart – mixed with whatever hormones are now flying through their systems.
Inconsistent With Their Interactions
It is extremely puzzling that the same kids who engage in shouting, play fighting, and canoodling in the corridors during lunch are such introverts when it comes to classroom interactions. I have students who are very engaging with their friends in between classes, but refuse to ask me a question verbally. Instead, they send questions and comments to me, while they are in the room with me, using Google Chat. My questions are met with silence. Some students even refuse to make eye-contact with me. Students even refuse to engage in a discussion with a partner of their own choosing! What the actual heck?! I am going to begin a public speaking activity next month and already students are reaching out to me, pleading that the speeches do not actually include actual speaking.
This selective introversion is the most surprising (and frustrating) consequence of returning to in-person instruction. If the students can happily interact with each other outside the room, then why not in the room? Is it me? If so, that would hurt since I made some significant changes to my teaching practice to make room for the social-emotional needs of my students. I smile more. I include humor in all my interactions with students. I built extra time into my assessment schedule to minimize stress, I built in much more reflection and self-assessment to help students better understand their strengths and areas of growth. And, I have continued all of those strategies in our in-person classroom. The only difference I can see is that I am no longer a face on a screen.
I plan to continue with my current instructional practices in hope that this reluctance to engage is a temporary blip. But, if it continues, I will have to consider some changes. If that is the case, I will seek out feedback from the students. I would ask them now, but I am afraid that seeking feedback at this point might actually contribute to the introversion somehow. I’m not sure if they would even respond.
I am delighted to be back in person with my students. And while I was excited to get back to “normal”, it is clear that normal is no longer an option. Normal is gone and I am going to have to continue to get used to being flexible and make more and more adjustments moving forward.
Just another reminder that good teaching is a process.