Even if you longed for the day your students could return to the classroom, the shift back to in-person learning can bring its own challenges.
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by Emily Graham
In a typical school year, teachers may take weeks to establish routines and teach students rules. As more students return to their school buildings in the fall, teachers may find themselves reminding students about school rules and classroom procedures that they don’t recall from before the pandemic.
We asked teachers what their biggest challenges are with returning to in-person learning as well as some tips to help you if you’re dealing with the same issues.
Getting Young Students To Keep Face Masks On
Many schools require face masks for school staff and students alike, but it can be hard for lower elementary students to keep them on all day. Kindergarteners may not understand why face masks are important, so teachers have found ways to reinforce mask wearing at school while having fun.
Use a stuffed animal to demonstrate the correct way to wear a face mask. Name the stuffed animal and talk bring it up in conversation with students. For example, “Does everyone have their mask on like our teddy bear friend?” Bonus points for using a stuffed animal that looks like your school mascot.
Show an age-appropriate video about mask wearing. We Are Teachers shared 10 videos to help students from preK to high school understand why wearing face masks is important. Fun music and animation or proper modeling by kids in the same age range can make a difference in kids keeping their face masks on.
Tell social stories. Social stories are often used to help people with autism understand social cues; however, they can also be a way to explain mask wearing to kids without frightening them about the dangers of the COVID-19 virus. Autism Resource Central has collected social stories about COVID-19 topics for children and adults.
Keep talking about it. Remind students about face mask guidelines during circle time or your classroom’s morning meeting. Periodically quiz students about how face masks help keep them healthy to help them remember.
Teaching While Wearing Face Masks
Students aren’t the only ones struggling with face masks. As teachers return to school, they’re finding that it’s a lot harder to project their voice across the classroom with a face mask on. Raising your voice for too long can lead to a sore throat or laryngitis.
Talk less to give your voice a break. Rely upon other methods to convey information whenever possible. Use hand signals, head nods, or anything else you can think of to cut down on the number of words you need to say.
Use a microphone. Speaking loudly for much of the day makes it more likely that you’ll strain your voice. If your classroom isn’t equipped with an audio system you can use, look online for classroom microphones or amplifier systems.
Keeping Students In Their Seats
After more than a year of distance learning or coming to school on a split schedule, some students may find it hard to sit still at their desks. For kids who have been completing lessons on the couch or while lounging on their bed, sitting up straight and staying seated is no longer second nature.
Take wiggle breaks. Even older students can appreciate a short dance party or a break to stand up and stretch. Remind students to maintain a safe social distance while getting their wiggles out.
Bring out the fidget toys. Invite students to bring quiet (and approved) fidget toys from home, or keep your own basket of toys that kids can check out for a school day. Stress balls and tangle toys are good options. Have students clean the fidget toys with antibacterial wipes before returning them to the basket.
Use learning stations. Have time for students to recline in the reading corner with a good book or move from one learning station to another. Even if they’re not moving very far, the act of standing up and walking around will help kids get out some of their excess energy.
Take time to go over classroom rules as soon as students return to school, and review them as often as needed. With older students, you may be able to make an activity out of students listing the classroom rules they want before taking a vote on them.
Display a classroom rules poster. Get the craft supplies out and make a poster or bulletin board display with your classroom rules. Not feeling inspired? Look online for posters created by other teachers that you can download and use.
Help students remember rules with videos or songs. For young students, you can choose one of the many videos online with songs about school rules. Challenge older students to compose a song about COVID-19 rules in school, or ask your school’s music teacher to help put the rules to music and teach it to students. Another option is to make your own video demonstrating safe social distancing, passing in hallways, and other COVID-19 precautions.
Share the schedule with students. Write the times students go to lunch or to the library on the whiteboard, or hang a sign that they can look to throughout the day.
Teaching Students Online and In Person At the Same Time
As if distance learning wasn’t hard enough, many teachers have now found themselves in the position of teaching students online and in a classroom simultaneously. This type of concurrent hybrid teaching brings a host of technological challenges, but it’s also hard for teachers to see online students struggle to grasp concepts that their peers at school catch on to more easily.
Make the most of technology. Take advice from teachers who have been there, too, on how to keep online students engaged while teaching their classmates at school.
The Friendly Teacher Hannah Wild offers tips for teaching virtual and in person at the same time.
True Life I’m a Teacher Theresa Copeland has a webinar on simultaneous in-person and virtual teaching.
New EdTech Classroom’s Sam Kary shares advice on setting up technology and lesson plans to meet the needs of online and in-person students.
TCEA has best practices for teaching in a hybrid classroom.
Keep things in perspective. We know this is not how you imagined teaching would be, but it’s not forever. Remember that your students are figuring it out as they go along, just like you are. Focus on connecting with your students and keeping them engaged in lessons and resist the temptation to compare this year’s class to classes you taught before the pandemic.
Looking for some fun back-to-school projects for students? Read 8 Activities To Ease the Transition Back to School.