What’s Next? Questions I’m Pondering After a Year of Hybrid Teaching

“The CDC says…” so very many things, especially lately. It’s been a year of finding our footing and then having the rug pulled out from under us as national, statewide, or community guidance changes. We’ve been building the plane as we fly it and then hopping out of the plane with patched-over parachutes just as we were about to enjoy the in-flight beverage. 

I hesitate to post with my thoughts about the future. We are all just making it through the moment and definitely need a long pause when this year ends, but the future is inevitably where my mind goes at this time of year. So here, in the gentlest form I can muster, are the questions I’m going to let simmer for the summer, like a zesty chicken marinade or a sweet simple syrup for a mojito.

  1. How will I continue to make time for talk? Next year, my school will return to a schedule with 50-minute class periods rather than the 80 minutes we’ve used all year. The longer classes allowed for more chatter about goofy questions at the start of each period. Those conversations united virtual and in-person students, and they built important relationships. How will I restructure my lessons to foster that community building? 
  2. How will I create more opportunities for self-directed response? My IB English class often ends not with a bang but a whimper as classmates depart to begin taking other exams. Given all that seniors have been through, it didn’t feel right just to have the class trickle away. We needed closure. So I developed a very open-ended “Closure Project.” Students reflected on one of the guiding concepts of the course and produced something that demonstrated what they learned and what they still wanted to know. Many students wrote traditional essays, but one senior created a needlepoint representation of a quote from The Little Prince that summarized her lessons learned; two sets of boys who were not in our school music program set all ego aside and recorded parody songs with favorite memories from our texts; poets shared small pieces of their personal collections; and a novelist-in the making put two drafts side by side and reflected on how the year had changed his writing. After a year and a half of squishing their own lives to fit the required parameters for health and safety and continued learning, when given the opportunity to let loose, students really delivered. So… how will I create a balance between structure and scaffold and total creative freedom? How can I create a few more opportunities for play-to-your-strength or go-wild-and-experiment responses?
  1. How will I discover what students need and what they can do on their own? Our ninth graders come to school from a variety of middle schools around the area. In my classroom next year will be students who learned virtually for most of seventh and eighth grade, students who learned in a hybrid setting like mine, and those who learned in school, in person, every day. This year, I’ve seen students adapt and innovate to ensure their own learning. How will I discover what ninth graders can do that they weren’t ready to do in the past? How, in a slightly-more-usual setting, will I differentiate my lessons to meet the needs of students whose learning situation has been anything but usual? 
  2. How will I continue to learn and grow in the work of anti-racism? Anti-racism isn’t a trend; it’s an essential practice that I know I must continue to study and foster in my classroom. How will I amplify voices that my students need to hear and create a space where students can speak up, have tough conversations, and learn what they can do to advocate for themselves and others? How will I support faculty and student efforts to promote anti-racism on campus? 
  3. How will I continue to lean into uncertainty when I don’t have to anymore? The last year and a half has forced us all to adapt and innovate, to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, to trust ourselves even when we knew we had absolutely no idea what we were doing. For me, this was humbling, and it reinforced the importance of being honest with students (and my colleagues!), of admitting to them that we were all learning together, and of giving them (and myself) grace for failed attempts. How can I continue to push myself out of a comfort zone (when I know it will feel so good to fall back into it)? How will I take this year’s safety nets and transform them into something new?

Readers, as this year comes to a close, I wish you all the rest, all the time with loved ones, all the compensation (!), and all the other delights you need to properly heal and commemorate the work you’ve done this year. You’ve been there for your students this year, and in being there, and trying, and looking out for the young people we care so much about, you’ve earned so much more than I know you might receive. 

What questions will be simmering over the summer for you? What answers do you have to mine? Please share your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter @MsJochman.

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