In its August 3, 2021 blog post, Education Week asked a number of teachers the following question:
“What do you think will be some of the challenges for teachers who might be returning to the physical classroom for the first time in a year and a half, and what are your ideas for how they can best handle them?”
The teachers responded with strategies for overcoming a variety of challenges for teachers and the teacher-student relationship.
Explicitly communicate expectations, routines, and consequences
Let your students know what’s expected of them in all types of circumstances, and what the consequences are for both positive and negative behaviors. Be clear and concise in your information, but be sure to give your reasoning for any rule or consequence whenever possible, since you want the students to understand all the various parts. Always follow through on consequences to reinforce positive behaviors and eliminate negative behaviors. Remember, too, that when students consistently hear about, observe, and practice their skills, they’re learning important concepts.
Make time for everyone to know each other better
We’ve all spent the past year and a half social distancing and teaching and learning through Zoom sessions. Now that students are back in physical schools, you may feel it’s important to focus 100% of your attention on the class material. However, while academics are the main reason teachers and students are in the classroom, it’s important to remember you’re not just teaching academic skills, but you’re also teaching “whole” human beings who need to learn (or learn again) how to positively engage with both teachers and peers. It’s worth every second you spend helping to create positive relationships, as this greatly impacts the students’ ability to learn from you and those around them.
Give students a voice in your class
Neither students nor teachers had much of a choice in how we learned during the pandemic. While many teachers got creative with their lesson plans, it still boiled down to teaching and learning through the limitations of a computer screen. While certainly tough on teachers, it was that much more difficult for students, as most didn’t have the coping or problem-solving skills that adults have developed.
Giving your students a voice can be as simple as allowing them to choose to complete assignments with paper and pencil or on their computer, or as complex as letting them take charge of classroom problem-solving and management. Encourage their voices by giving them leadership roles in their classroom — and in the school community. In both roles, they can learn to advocate for themselves and for others.
Give yourself grace
During the restrictions imposed by distance learning, it was easy to believe we didn’t do enough to help the students entrusted to us, especially those at-risk. And sometimes it felt that no matter how hard you worked, it would never be enough. That’s a very negative thought pattern, and it can be harmful to your students — and yourself. So give yourself a bit of grace.
No, returning to in-person learning isn’t going to be easy, but many teachers adapted well during the “Zoom era,” and students still learned. While in-person learning this fall still isn’t going to be ideal, it’ll be enough. Remind yourself that your kids will be exactly where they need to be, with the exact person who was meant to teach them. With that as a foundation, rebuilding will come in time.
As teachers return to physical classrooms, they’ll need to balance the personal and the pedagogical. From social isolation to increased anxiety to increasing disparities in housing, socioeconomic status, food, and health, teachers will have to recognize the ongoing challenges on their students’ lived realities, and therefore, on their pedagogical engagement.
Humanizing the emotional impact of the pandemic for the physical classroom becomes critical, and it will invariably lead to describing emotions that many of us have never experienced. As a result, we’ll need a strategy to employ communal emotional labeling, the practice of making space for naming emotions with specificity. Out goes the simple “I’m fine” or “I’m okay,” inviting instead, “I feel worried and closed-in,” or “I feel confused, lost.” Once named, these emotions can be further explored.
Familiarity breeds, in this case, success. The more you and your students adhere to a routine in the classroom, the greater the focus, commitment, and willingness to participate actively in learning. Building the relationship between teacher and student, as well as between individual students, is key to fostering supportive environments conducive to learning. And by intentionally connecting with students and their unique life experiences, teachers can build a sense of trust that will help to ensure expectations are met and procedures are respected and followed.
Educators will have to spend more time than usual explicitly teaching and modeling classroom expectations so students can re-acclimate to the academic setting. However, a consistent presence, a guiding set of rules, and a commitment to positive relationships can all help to provide the consistency students need to once again move forward.
 Ferlazzo, Larry. (August 3, 2021). “11 Strategies for Facing this Year’s Classroom Challenges.” Education Week. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/opinion-eleven-strategies-for-facing-this-years-classroom-challenges/2021/08?utm_source=nl&utm_medium=eml&utm_campaign=cm&M=62467311&U=&UUID=b3fade9a2f68f6087f77f1f471976f89.