As my remaining time at Montclair State University is slowly dwindling down to weeks and days, I’ve had time to reflect on my entire academic experience but especially on my time as a student teacher this past year. I expressed my concern for teaching in-person due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic back in late August before the beginning of my teaching experience.
I can firmly say with all I have seen in my own time student teaching and talking with other student teachers, my opinion on virtual schooling with the current state of COVID-19 has shifted entirely.
I believe at the time of my last article on this topic it was a serious danger to be teaching in person. Now, with May fast approaching and vaccinations rapidly increasing, our teachers and students desperately need to return to schools in person.
The Center of Pedagogy at Montclair State has taught me many things in my 2 ½ years within the teacher education program, but one of the most important lessons I have learned is as teachers, our central focus is to serve our students. They are our main priority in all cases no matter what.
I have seen my own students and those around me suffer severely, both emotionally and socially, from over a year of virtual schooling. While it was meant to keep both students and teachers safe, online learning simply cannot continue without permanently hurting the development of our students and their invaluable education.
I have witnessed this damage firsthand with students in my class who have seen the same people on screen day after day, but still do not know each other’s names or truly feel connected to their classmates. As a teacher, I have strived to form those bonds with my students. It hurts me to see them so isolated from their own peers, some of whom could have ended up being great friends under the circumstances of a normal school year.
I talk with my students regularly about their weekends or what they want to share with the class about their lives. When some speak about their sports tournaments or trips with family and friends, it makes me wonder why we are virtual at all anymore. If our students can be safe in other public spheres, why can our schools not actively work to ensure their safety without compromising their physical and mental well-being?
There are many who still have concerns regarding COVID-19, which I completely understand. I contracted COVID-19 back in February and although I was fairly sick for a couple of days, fortunately, I recovered. Living in fear of the unknown is one thing and last year we were all living in the unknown. But now, with hard data and facts showing the recovery rate of this illness for people of all ages and larger numbers of people getting vaccinated, we do not have to live, teach and learn in that same fear.
While I can’t go back and change my virtual student teaching experience, I can use it to grow as a teacher who strives to make up for lost time within my physical classroom next year. Teachers in the same position as me are yearning for the next school year, where we can see our students in the hallways and truly be the in-person educators we always dreamed of and have studied hard to become.
I may never get to see my current students in person or share this experience with them physically, but they have taught me more than they will ever know. I am grateful for the experience I did have and feel prepared to have a classroom of my own, but there will always be a part of me that resents what could have been, or should have been made possible.
Our students are struggling. If we do not get them back in the classroom, their lack of interest might become one that shapes their entire adolescence and not just a single year of college, like mine.