When fellow school faculty, administrators especially, tell me how challenging it has been conducting online classes, I tell them they’ve actually had it easy these past three years.
I remind them that once face-to-face classes are restored, they will have to deal directly with faculty, students, staff, and parents full-time. For administrators, this might even become 24/7, especially for managing interpersonal conflicts with the accompanying gossip.
If you have dorms in your school, as I do, you will find yourself on the receiving end of problems, from those of a personal nature to the food served in the cafeteria, from delayed allowances and family crises behind those delays.
For schools with a militant tradition (guess which ones), expect a return to protest rallies, which is not a bad thing in itself, but remember that you can no longer hide behind lockdowns and work-from-home arrangements as excuses for delayed responses.
I’ll run through some tips on handling this transition back to face-to-face arrangements, starting with the most important: do not expect a return to the old situation. When the term “new normal” was introduced to refer to the impact of COVID-19 on our lives, little did we know that this “new normal” would extend into the tail-end (we hope) of the pandemic and into a post-pandemic era. Sometimes, I think of the new normal as a combination of the worst of the pre-pandemic situation as well as new abnormalities. You do the math to figure out the sum.
The new normal’s impact is often more adverse on younger students, and faculty, who spent most of the last two years working and studying at home. A Unicef report notes that countries went through an average of five months of suspended face-to-face classes. In the Philippines, we had at least 30 months without face-to-face classes with wide-reaching effects on the way we teach and learn, in the ways we think and study. The incidence and burden of mental health problems have become much heavier than in pre-pandemic days, with many students returning to classes with undiagnosed learning difficulties.
Second major piece of advice: we need to brace ourselves for this real new normal by starting with an audit of what we have in terms of human resources. Ideally, we should have faculty who understand the new normal’s challenges. Preferably, schools should have psychologists, especially those exposed to educational psychology.
If you don’t have these staff members, then look for ways to get training. Guidance counselors, for example, are not authorized to do clinical counseling, but they and faculty can get training in “first response” (first aid), being able to detect signs of mental distress and make the proper referrals, which entails knowing what the networks are for mental health counseling.
Do remember as well that the challenges are not just in mental health. The prolonged lockdown, including the confinement of minors to their homes, inevitably affect their development, speech development for example.
When one of my children complained about not being able to read the whiteboard and PowerPoint projections in class, I brought her for an eye check-up, which revealed that she needed glasses.
Her siblings then chimed in about having vision problems, and the optometrist confirmed that all of them needed glasses! Studies have indeed shown that an increasing incidence of myopia (near-sightedness) is related to urban environments where children are unable to look out to the distance.
Myopia is at least easy to correct with glasses. With my college students, I have to figure out if problems with reading comprehension are due to learning losses in their online years, or because of actual developmental problems like dyslexia.
Third piece of advice: build partnerships. Activate student councils and hold periodic dialogues, including getting students to propose and implement remedial measures. Get faculty members and staff to assume their roles as second parents. Finally, parents have to be reminded that face-to-face classes should not mean they can now just shift responsibilities to schools. They need to work even more closely with faculty and administrators, giving us a heads-up on what they observe at home.
Think positively—face to face, hand in hand, we are in a better position to face the challenges.
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