Conducted by Ben Slomich
Brian Perlsweig is a teacher and football coach here at Garnet Valley High School. In this article, you will get to hear some of his opinions about online learning, sports, and living life during the pandemic.
Q: What is your overall feeling about online learning?
A: “You’re trying to make the most of the situation; as a teacher it’s hard. I feel like I’m doing three times the amount of work that I would normally be doing, and at times it gets frustrating because you don’t know if you’re reaching kids. You know having an interaction face to face is way different than having one over a screen.”
Q: Being a parent and a teacher, what is life like at home during the pandemic and having to handle that with online learning?
A: “I see it as a teacher perspective I emphasize with parents. My daughter’s only in second grade so it’s a completely different view. You know she loves being on Zoom and being on camera. I think it’s harder for younger kids especially elementary kids and K through 3 kids to learn on Zoom vs. being in the classroom. I think some high school kids can handle it, but I also see a number of kids who we need to get back in the classroom as quick as we can.”
Q: What is one thing you miss the most because of the pandemic and online learning?
A: “I miss having kids in my room, you know the fun part about going to work is the interaction with the kids. You know standing outside my classroom in between periods and talking to kids, you know walking in the cafeteria and just talking to kids. I think that’s the part you miss the most is the student interaction; it’s just not the same through a screen.”
Q: Does it shock you at all that less kids are deciding to show up?
A; “I figured there be more kids than there are now. I think a lot of it is especially early on when there was some positive Covid cases and other kids were being told they had to quarantine because of the contact tracing. I think that scared a lot of kids from coming in.
Q: Do you think online learning is more stressful than normal?
A; “1,000,000% we can’t do this another year, like I’m being dead serious. I think I’d have to take a year off. There’s no way I can handle doing this for another year.”
Q: How do you manage your time between focusing on the kids on Zoom and focusing on the ones in the classroom?
A; “That’s the juggling act, you know. I don’t know how classroom teachers do it, especially classroom teachers that have a number of kids because it’s hard finding that balance. You need to spend more time with the kids in person, but at the same time I might have one in the classroom and five on Zoom. So it’s hard finding that balance making sure I address and help my Zoom kids while helping my in-person students.”
Q: What was it like coaching football during the pandemic along with all the protocols?
A: “You know what, I thought it was great because we didn’t think we were gonna have a season and we did. The only thing that scared me was that you didn’t know if you were gonna have practice tomorrow, you didn’t know if you were gonna have a game tomorrow because you where on eggshells…you know waiting for a phone call that said, ‘hey, so and so tested positive; we gotta shut it all down.’ You know, overall, the kids were great. They adjusted on the fly and just rolled with whatever came their way. I also see the benefits. I look at California…like, they had no sports. And there were some other states where they didn’t let their kids play sports and you know to me that the mental health side of this–especially with teenagers–is just as important as the physical side and I think it made a huge difference for a lot of kids. It gave them purpose, gave them a reason to work hard in school because they needed to stay eligible and they didn’t want to let other people down, and I also think that sports taught kids a lot about personal responsibility, and making good decisions because their decisions outside of school could impact their teammates. And you didn’t want to be the guy who was hanging out with a bunch of buddies and went up and tested positive for Covid, and now it all gets shut down because of your actions. So, I think some of this actually taught kids some lessons in personal responsibility and accountable as well.”
Q: In regards to the protocols that the Garnet Valley Athletic Department are putting in place, are they handling it well?
A: “Absolutely. I mean, we went the entire fall sports season I don’t think we had one game canceled. We’ve gone through winter sports without any Garnet Valley games getting canceled. I think Mr. Brunner has done a phenomenal job. I think people don’t realize how difficult his job is. I mean he’s on the phone nonstop, it’s scheduling and rescheduling games nonstop, because I know some other schools have had some issues. It’s transportation, it’s, you know, coordination with the health department. I don’t think people understand how hard he’s worked and how much he’s done behind the scenes so that our kids can have sports.”
Q: During football season, they allowed fans to come to games at limited capacity, do you think that adds more of a quiet and not so upbeat vibe to the games?
A; “You know what, I gotta be honest I never really noticed. You know you’re so dialed in with the game. It was funny though…I think at the Marple game, there was the same number of people we had at other games, you know, but that game definitely felt like a normal Friday night game. The time I really noticed it was at the other schools. All the away games we had, they were allowed to have fans. You know, I know one of the schools that we played at home, they did not allow visiting teams to host or to bring guests. And that’s another part where our school board and Mr. Brunner deserve a lot of credit. So we played Haverford in basketball a couple weeks ago, and a friend of mine…his son plays for Haverford and he was talking about how awesome our situation was. I believe it was for the visiting basketball teams they were allowed to have their senior parents come. I mean there’s some schools in the league where you know there’s no visitor fans at all. So parents aren’t able to watch there’s kids play in person. I mean all things considered, I think our kids have had a pretty good go of it; they’re very fortunate that we’ve been able to have as many people in the gym as we’ve had, thanks to the school board and thanks to Mr. Brunner. Because not every school board understands the importance of extracurriculars I think and the impact it has on kids. I think in some school distracts, you know it’s there, it’s an activity, whereas in our school district, they value the importance of not just the sport but all the other things that come out of sports. You know being a part of a group, accountable, discipline, time management, all those things.”
Q: Do you prefer students to have their cameras on or off, and why?
A; “On. I don’t understand from day one why it wasn’t required. Our school district has done a lot of good things. I know they’re worried about privacy and other things, but kids can use backgrounds and kids are very adaptable to technology. That’s the one thing, I wish cameras were required from day one.”
Q: You said kids are very adaptable to technology, how do you feel about the whole technology situation? Are you very techy or are you having trouble with the technology and online learning?
A: “Nah, I mean I think it’s like anything else, you have to learn to adapt and you learn new things. You know it’s making the most of the situation. You can sit around, you can wallow, you can sit in pity, you know, ‘poor me’ and ‘this is hard’. Yeah it’s hard, it’s hard for everybody. It’s hard for teachers, it’s hard for kids, it’s hard for parents, but you know you can sit and complain, you can sit and feel sorry, or you know you pull yourself up by bootstraps and say, ‘hey, we gotta figure out a way to make this work’.”
Q: What was your first initial reaction when you first heard about the pandemic and that we would have to do online learning? (this year 2020-2021)
A: “I understood we had to be virtual in the beginning but I knew that Dr. Beterando was really intent on making sure that we got kids in the building. Yeah, you kept hoping that you would find out soon that there would be kids in the building, and once we did it was exciting but then that lasted about a week because for the most part kids just stopped coming, because they didn’t want to be the only kid in class. I don’t know, I hope as we get to the fourth marking period and it gets warmer out maybe we will start getting more kids in school.”
Q: Not a lot of kids are coming into school, do you think the school should require all kids to come in?
A: “I don’t, because I know of students who live in families where they have siblings or relatives that are either immune compromise or you know if one of their family members contracts Covid it may not be a good outcome. So, I think you have to be respectfully of everybody’s decisions. That’s an individual decision by each family, but it’s like anything else you gotta assess the risks and everything but I think there’s a lot of kids who would be fine coming to school, kids just don’t come. Because they don’t want to be that only kid in class not coming, or they don’t want to be the only kid sitting in class while 26 kids are on Zoom.”
Q: Even if the school said all the kids that came in the past two weeks they had to come in full time, do you agree with that?
A: “I think this is different, I would say I would encourage those kids to come every day. I don’t think you can make it a requirement, again because you know everybody’s situations are different. But I would highly encourage the kids who can and they weigh the risks and they feel comfortable coming to school. I would encourage those kids to come every chance they could, come on their cohort days and if there were an option to come four days I would encourage all those kids to come. But again given the situation and the time certainty you can’t force it upon anybody.”
Q: A lot of kids have had to make changes to their lifestyle because of online learning, what changes have you had to make to your lifestyle?
A: “Well I mean the vigilance is the biggest thing. My mother in law lives with us; she’s got an immune disorder that she’s probably in the 1/10th of 1% if she contracted Covid, she would be facing daunting odds to beat it. You know, it’s like anything else, it’s being smart, it’s wearing masks, you know my wife and I. We love going out to dinner. You know, we did outdoor dining, we haven’t done any indoor dining since last March. I miss that. I miss just being able to go out to a restaurant, being able to take my daughter to the movies, and all she wants to do is go to LegoLand and Dave And Busters. You know until enough people get vaccinated, that’s off the hook. You know I think just like the kids it’s been hard, you know we’re social creatures, I’m not one to just sit in my house all day. You know I like going out. I miss doing all those things that we would normally do. In the winter time you know going to Flyers games, and every president’s day weekend, we rent a house in the Poconos with friends of ours and their kids and everything; we didn’t get to do that this year. You know, I was bummed out last weekend because we were sitting around the house because we couldn’t do that. But, it’s like anything else–like everybody’s in the same boat, everybody’s had sacrifices to make. It drives my wife nuts but I say it: It is what it is and you just have to deal with it.”
Q: Do you have any funny or memorable moments you remember happening in a Zoom call?
A: “A mom whispering answers in the background, I do remember that. But other than that I don’t know, I think it’s also been kind of neat for kids to share there personally experiences. You know, I’m relegated to the basement. So where my desk is set up, my daughter’s doll house and her gymnastics bar are relegated in the middle of it. Hey, this is how we live. You know this is what it is here. Could I put a screen thing up, yeah. But I don’t mind seeing the kids. This is reality. I don’t think you hide reality. You know I think it gives kids perspective on the things we’re dealing with, gives me perspective on kids with what they’re dealing with at home.”
Q: Are snow days a thing of the past?
A: “I hope not. I think to me especially with the younger kids, you know. My daughter’s got one eye on Zoom and she’s got one eye looking out the window at the snow. How productive are you? I think there’s a balance, maybe instead of three snow days built into the schedule, you build in four. Because I don’t wanna take the joy away from kids. What scares me is with all this technology, yeah it’s great there’s great tools but there’s things about being a kid that I don’t wanna take away from kids. Kids still need to be kids. In fact, I had kids who were absent because they were out plowing and shoveling snow. They’re gonna go out and make money when it snows, that’s not gonna change. It’s something else to consider I think too. You know, I would be sad if snow days went away. Yeah, I still think kids need to be kids.”
Q: What is one thing that is keeping you up throughout the pandemic?
A: “That it’s gonna get warm out soon, and that summer’s coming. And that hopefully in September, we have all the kids back in the building. Like I said earlier, there’s no way I could do this for another year. It takes a toll on you. I know teenagers can stay in their room and just look at their phones all day. I hope kids are back in the building in September. You know, all the extracurriculares I hope that’s back to normal next year, and if it means wearing masks for a little while, then so be it. I think about this group of seniors. They had their junior year taken away. They had all of their senior year taken away. They’re never gonna get that back. And I worry about that because I see it now with the phones; like, kids’ ability to interact socially is already not as good as it was maybe even five years ago. And when they’re staring at screens and there texting, they have no human interaction whatsoever. And I worry about the impact that that has when they’re adults. You know, when you have a job interview, you’re not gonna be able to turn your camera off and just text somebody through an interview. You’re gonna have to look at someone in the eye. You know, give someone a firm handshake. I think all those soft skills are important as you develop as a human and into an adult. Kids are missing out on all of those things, and I think they’re just as important as the educational aspect of things.”