The post-Covid classroom

One of the terms I’ve heard a lot lately is “post-Covid classroom.” This makes the assumption that the pandemic is over, and we are back to normal. Nothing, as we all know, could be further from the truth. My friends in boarding schools, where everyone lives on campus, are actually teaching in a close to normal fashion, but that is a very small group. Everyone else is dealing with Covid protocols which vary from country to country, state (province or county) to state, and county to county. Not only that, but I have heard of differences even within school systems.

Some parents are terrified that their children who are masked will be going to school with children and staff who are not protected, putting their children at risk of being exposed. Other parents are terrified that their unmasked children will be subjected to people who are wearing masks which these parents believe is unnecessary and which prevents teachers and students from communicating with each other. What’s fascinating is that both sets of parents are correct. We’ve all heard of the children in an elementary school who were exposed to the virus when their teacher took her mask off to read to them. If she hadn’t taken her mask off, some children might not have been able to understand her as she read.

What’s happened is that schools have attempted to go back to in-person learning; then there’s a serious outbreak of the virus, and schools have to close again. The result? Children are feeling a lack of confidence in those who are making these decisions: politicians, school systems, their teachers, and even their parents. That lack of confidence creates a level of stress that leaves children unable to focus on their schoolwork, putting them at risk of losing another year of education. We assumed that after last year, school would proceed as normal this year. Which it has not. We haven’t gotten close to post-Covid yet.

What we learned from last year was that elementary school children learn best in a face-to-face classroom. There had been an idea that children could succeed in a totally online educational environment, but that hasn’t proved to be the case. It does work for a small group of children, but the vast majority need the presence of the teacher and classmates to get the total learning experience. Online education may work to a somewhat better degree for high school students, but only when the student is very aware of what they are able to do well. Many students do not know why they are not learning, and need the presence of the teacher to help them acquire the skills to learn.

My students in my community college course who were in high school last year tell me that they want to be in an in-person class, and if that isn’t available, at least in a synchronous class where they see the instructor and can hear their classmates’ questions. My older students are simply more used to face-to-face instruction, and feel more comfortable in that setting. My son, who attends graduate school in a top-tier university, actually takes all of his classes online. He also would prefer to learn in person.

We’re all aware of the offer of college degrees from online institutions, and what this past year has shown us – and those of us who teach at all levels already knew – that online education is not an acceptable substitute for in-person learning.

So, what does this mean for your child? As with everything else, you’re the one who must make the decisions about your child’s behavior and their education. Make your decision about in-person or online education and if in-person, about masking or not. Make sure your child knows what that decision is, and why you have made it. Give your child the reasons for your decision so that your child can defend himself if someone questions him.

Listen to your child’s concerns about the fact that others, some of them their friends, are not following the same practices as he is. Children take comfort in seeing others following the same rules that they are required to follow, and when the world is fractured, as it is now, they find that very confusing. Do what you can to give your child the confidence to trust that you want to protect him and do the best by him. If your child disagrees with you, listen to him, provide evidence for your viewpoint, and ask him to provide evidence for his. You may learn from each other.

We will get through this time, but it’s going to take longer than we had anticipated. New varieties of the virus are making it difficult to make solid predictions about the future, but humans have survived pandemics before. The difference was that they didn’t have social media to let them know, in real time, what was happening in other parts of the world. Good luck!