Today, I am finishing up six days of classes with students (we began last Wednesday with a staggered face-to-face return of students. Monday was my first official face-to-face day with all students). After 18 months of digital/hybrid teaching, I am SO ready to return back to a "normal," face-to-face teaching environment where I am no longer teaching hybrid completely behind a desk. I have felt SO FREE to be able to move around the (masked) classroom and to teach how I did pre-Covid.
However, after these past six days of teaching, I have come to a number of realizations. For those of you who have yet to return to the classroom and want to know how it has been, let me pass along some observations/words of wisdom:
- When it comes to COVID concerns and the classroom, you do you - In other words, based on your school's/district's COVID guidelines, do what you feel is best for you and your students. If you are face-to-face but do not feel comfortable teaching like you did pre-Covid, then don't. It is okay to teach still from behind your desk.
- Have realistic expectations and goals for your students this year - Now is not the time to set high expectations and to expect all students to rise to a very lofty standard. Do not think at all that you will be able to pick up where you left off last year. Due to the variety of learning situations and environments which students have experienced since March 2020, a WIDE range of knowledge gaps exists among them. Spend the first few weeks finding those gaps and holes - heck it may take all semester. Fill those holes which are necessary, and do not worry about those which are not. Most likely, your curriculum coverage for this year will definitely look different from past years.
- Have a realistic outlook about last year's learning situation - Every year, I have students in the beginning of the school year who will say to me, "I do not remember any Latin from last year." Pre-Covid, my response would always be, "You remember more Latin than you think you do." This year, my gut feeling is, "Yep, that is probably true."
- Therefore, if ever there was a time for this, SHELTER VOCABULARY AND NOT GRAMMAR! Just because you "covered" vocabulary last year does not mean at all that students ever acquired those words. Most likely, the majority of students did not. Although students may have completed assignments digitally, that is the extent of what they did - they completed the assignments, and that is probably as far as the acqusition process went. Therefore, focus on a limited amount of target/necessary/high frequency words in the beginning and milk the heck out of these words grammatically to ease students back into language so that they can feel successful again.
- Ease students into routines and your expectations - Today in my upper level classes, I began doing circling, asking processing questions, and doing PQAs with students. Since I had not done this in-person for 18 months, I went all-in with it! However, I quickly realized that many students were not ready for it and became overwhelmed. Although I was certainly ready for them to get back into hearing Latin and interacting with the language again, many were not after not having been in-person on campus for 18 months.
- Survey your students about their language learning experience last year - This was one of the first things which I did with students, and I was very surprised at their honesty about how it was very difficult learning in a digital environment (even if hybrid) and that many relied heavily on Google Translate. A number of them were nervous about not remembering anything from last year. Here are questions which I asked students:
- What was your learning situation last year?
- How was your Latin learning experience last year? Be honest!
- What did your teacher do last year which helped you acquire Latin?
- What is something which you liked about your Latin teacher last year? Be positive!
- Last year was traumatic for us as teachers - Last year's teaching situation was unlike anything which we had ever encountered before. When it came to teaching, the name of the game last year was simply survival, trying to come up with lessons which would work digitally, how to reach students, what to do with students who never showed up for Zoom sessions and never turned in any work, etc. I think that we are still healing from all of that.
- Love your students right where they are at!