NJ Teachers Share How the Pandemic Has Affected Their Classrooms

by James Barrett
nj pandemic classrooms

It’s been two years since classrooms have been uninterrupted. Students and faculty faced challenges in remote learning where still, creativity thrived and coming together when we couldn’t physically be together was inspiring. From various grade levels, learning from the comfort of your own home through a computer wasn’t as easy as it seems. 

As students have returned back to school in person and the mask mandate lifted, we are all feeling a sense of normalcy again. Teachers can now see when a student smiles or when they look confused during a lesson–things that we never thought would be taken for granted. 

I spoke with David Silva, a science teacher in Springfield, NJ who was awarded Teacher of the Year 2019 at Jonathan Dayton High School and Angela Pento, a physical education teacher in Keyport, NJ about how the pandemic has affected their classrooms. 

Regaining human connections has been difficult.

This school year started off with social distancing, masks, dividers, limited allowed activities, and lots of hand sanitizer. Pento, who teaches Pre-K through eighth grade tells me, “Some students were very hesitant, while others were searching to regain connections. For example, some of my younger students would ask for hugs while others would step away when another person started to come close to them. Masks limited our non-verbal communication, facial expressions, and made exercising during physical education more challenging.” 

nj pandemic classrooms

Photo by MChe Lee

Curriculums have adapted to student needs. 

From remote learning to being back in the classroom, curricula may not be exactly the same pre-pandemic. Silva, who teaches 10th through 12th grade, tells me, “Certain changes occurred. Specifically, regarding the AP Physics curriculum, the number of units covered in a year changed from 10 total units to now seven total units and this has been maintained despite more schools returning to regular instruction.”  

Changing environments can be a hard transition. “I have seen some struggles with material that I had not seen in previous years. Whether it is in mathematics or writing, I think I am seeing the effect of students having missed that regular instruction even a year later. For instance, in Physics I am seeing some common mistakes in arithmetic that I had not really seen before. However, I think it is important to note that many students rose to the challenge. There has not been nearly as big of a drop-off as I would expect,” he explains. 

Social and emotional learning (SEL) has become a main priority. 

Pento has adapted to her students’ needs which have leaned heavily on SEL learning. “Many students have been struggling with self-control, empathy, cooperation, and responsibility. Our district has been working hard to address SEL in response to the pandemic.” 

She also shares that the transition back to the classroom has had hurdles after being remote for so long. “The most difficult thing since returning to school has been re-establishing routines and rules for all the students. Working with the elementary and middle school population I have seen the struggles due to virtual/hybrid learning since March 2020. It has been a challenge accustoming them to school protocol and norms,” Pento explains.  

Technology used during remote learning is here to stay. 

While there were obstacles, many have thrived and grown academically. Silva shares, “I am very impressed with the high number of students that were able to thrive in remote/hybrid instruction. I am also able to incorporate some of the technology I needed to use in my classroom as a part of regular instruction now. For instance, I used online software during remote/hybrid instruction to ask questions virtually. Then, students provided open-ended/multiple-choice responses in real-time. This is much like the traditional clickers in a college class, which has also allowed for students to type in unique answers.” From this, the engagement and interaction in his class have increased compared to traditional individual hand-raising. 

nj pandemic classrooms

David Silva, a science teacher in Springfield, NJ l Courtesy of David Silva

Through everything, teachers, students and staff continue to show resilience. 

“I think this pandemic certainly created challenges for everyone. But it also highlighted and showcased the resilience, creativity, and hard work that we are all capable of,” Silva says. 

Like many teachers, Pento has missed seeing her students’ faces while we were at the height of the pandemic. She concludes, “Being able to greet all my students each morning with a big smile on my face allows me to connect and share my positivity with them!”

About the Author/s

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James Barrett is a freelance journalist covering everything from travel, interviews, personal essays and entertainment. He's a Syracuse University alum and New Jersey native. You can subscribe to his free weekly newsletter at jimmyrox.com.

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