By Frank Long
Garnet Valley Middle School teacher/coach Eric Van Wyk (Mr. Van Wyk) along with Saint Joseph’s University economics professor Vincent Long, give insight on what teaching during the pandemic has been like.
This pandemic has been exceptionally challenging for everyone. From losing social experiences, to losing jobs, and to even losing loved ones. It has been one hardship after another. A huge topic of concern during this pandemic has been schooling. There has been debate after debate about what is best for students to learn during this time. As a high school student, I believe everyone is different in what they need. Some will adapt fine to changes, and some will struggle. This makes it very difficult to find a compromise. Consequently, it has been very difficult for all students to be put in a place where they can succeed. There have been so many efforts to try and find a way to help these students. Government employees and heads of schooling boards are still trying their best. Hopefully, we will see improvements. I am a high school student and I have a perspective on what it has been like. Similar to me, all of my high school classmates have that perspective. Being high school students, we are somewhat self-centered. We find ourselves so caught up in the negatives and feeling sorry for ourselves that we miss that others have it just as bad and can’t be forgotten. The others I’m referring to are teachers. I feel as if everyone has been focusing on how hard it has been for students, but many people should also look at the teachers. These teachers have tremendous pressure and stress on them. They are assigned the task to educate and encourage the future generations. They have to teach others, while they are still learning themselves. By the time COVID hit in march, 87 percent of schools in the country had to switch to the virtual setting. That means that not only did students have to adjust, so did teachers. They had to use technology that maybe they have never operated before, such as Zoom, and other virtual ways to communicate. Not only did they have to get to know Zoom, but they had to connect with their students—over a screen, with limited time. I can only imagine the struggle each teacher went through. Thankfully, I would get some insight on what it has been like not just one teacher’s perspective, but two teachers’ perspectives. Eric Van Wyk, a Garnet Valley Middle School teacher, provided us a perspective regarding what it’s been like for middle school teachers, such as himself. Vincent Long, college professor at Saint Joseph’s University, could give us even more information and insight, this time from the university standpoint.
The first thing I wanted to understand was expectations. I was curious about what teachers expected coming into the year and how much it would have differed from what they expected. Not only did I want to understand their expectations, but also their adjustments, because previously in quarantine of 2020, Garnet Valley did a form of asynchronous learning. That means that besides office hours, the work and the learning depended on the student. There were no class periods, and no set times to wake up. As the crazy year wrapped up, that meant that the next one was in mind. In August, Dr. Bertrando announced the 2020-21 school year would be a full year of virtual learning. This meant that teachers would have to learn Zoom (if they hadn’t done so already) and adjust from what they did before. “… the biggest adjustment for me was figuring out how to connect with the kids. It was difficult to build connections with those students not being able to be face to face.” That was Mr. Van Wyk’s detail on his adjusting to the situation.
Another concern for teachers—as stated by Mr. Van Wyk—was connecting with the kids. As a student, I feel like I barely know any of my teachers. Losing that face-to-face interaction has had that effect. Teachers who rely on getting to know their students and what is best for them have been at a disadvantage. “My biggest struggle has been getting that connection. I think I’m missing that the most. I rely a lot on talking to the kids before and after class. But with virtual school, I’m not really able to get that opportunity,” said Mr. Van Wyk. Vincent Long, a college professor, also had this to say on the topic, “Being able to get to know the students has been pretty limited. For me, having such a large class and no real connection with them makes it challenging putting faces to names. I also have difficulties where I can’t have traditional office hours, so it is hard to fully understand what everyone is struggling with.”
In addition, students are not the only ones gaining things for this new set up of learning. Even though they are limited in interactions with their teachers, educators such as Mr. Van Wyk and Vincent Long are still trying to teach them a lesson. No, it’s not a math problem or a historical event, but a life lesson. Vincent Long stresses gratitude. He hopes his students will understand what he is trying to teach them. He is trying to teach them that everything could be worse, and it is important to stay thankful for you and the people you have. Mr. Van Wyk being with younger students stresses the importance of, “Controlling what you can control.” In all the sadness and hardships, it’s truly great to see that teachers are still keeping a positive attitude and using it as a teaching moment for students all ages and in all areas of their lives. This experience has just been a teaching moment for students, but also for teachers. Mr VanWyk could describe the positives that he got from the whole experience. ”I’m learning a lot of ways to teach you. I am a social studies teacher and I feel like I am learning a ton of technology that is useful for my material.”
Depression within students has been on the rise. Same goes for teachers. It has been such a hard time and according to the American Institute Of Research, depression diagnoses within teachers and the teaching department has gone up 22 percent since the outbreak of COVID-19. Teachers are struggling all over the world, and it is important we do as much as we can to help support them. Vincent Long feels the same way; he examined how he kept a positive attitude and gave advice to teachers. “I feel as if you got to go into the day with the right mindset. It is important to believe what you are doing is good and going to benefit others. We teachers have so much influence that what we say and our character can have a huge impact on these kids. I am a college teacher and I am preparing these kids for the start of their lives. So I know that I have to be positive and lead these kids in the right direction.” That is able to help keep Vincent Long in a good mindset and spread some advice and positivity to support other teachers. As you can see, the challenges are evident among teachers. But the fact that a college teacher and many others can stay positive in a time where their whole livelihood is being turned upside down, then so should students.
In conclusion, I had the opportunity to discuss the lasting effects COVID and virtual learning may have on schooling, even when the pandemic is over. Obviously, it will be an unforgettable time for everyone. It’s been so life-changing, that Vincent Long has had to change some of his economic lesson plans to be more relevant to the time we are experiencing. Eric Van Wyk, being a social studies teacher, has done the same and even compared it to previous times in history. On the other hand, this is a time that may very well have a lasting impact on the ways schools conduct their teaching. High schoolers saw the effect with snow days. This could become a new norm and maybe a positive situation. Vincent Long hopes it is not because he finds it very difficult teaching ZOOM and in-person students at the same time. Eric Van Wyk believes it could be a possibility that this could be a new form of hybrid education. All in all, COVID has been an unforgettable experience that sadly is still going on. My goal of this article was to make high school students realize we are not the only ones who are struggling at this time. Teachers are having it just as bad, and it is important we work together and keep a positive mindset. Things will hopefully get better, and so should we—one day at a time.