The High School Teacher

The High School Teacher

“How do I contact students? How do I keep students engaged? How do I make sure they’re even just OK?” – Joe Bennett
Published: May 5, 2021

The High School Teacher
Joe Bennett, a physics teacher at Nottingham High School in Syracuse.

At first, everything was kind of normal. I remember talking about COVID with some colleagues and not thinking too much of it. And then March hit, and we closed down. At the end of that day, it was like, “Grab all your stuff,” and to students, “We won’t be coming back.”

The mood was kind of weird — just a lot of unsureness, a lot of not really knowing what’s going to happen. I didn’t think too much of it in the first week or so, just, cool, we have a weeklong break. It seemed like a break at first.

And then school was canceled for another two weeks. And another two weeks. It was getting longer and longer, and what had seemed not so serious definitely became a lot more serious. It got pretty isolating, too, just because we were all locked up.

When we initially shut down, it was all asynchronous, meaning students would do the work whenever they could. I had to figure out what work I could put online that students may not need my help with. Especially with physics — I teach physics, and it’s pretty hard. So, it was: How do I contact students? How do I keep students engaged? How do I make sure they’re even just OK?

The majority of my students aren’t coming in this year. In some ways, it’s easier to teach because it’s only one, two, maybe three students. Some of my students actually did better online than they did in person. There was less distraction. Their friends weren’t there. They couldn’t really skip class. Maybe there was even less bullying.

But they’re kind of still separated out. They have a mask on. They have this screen in front of them. I still don’t know what a lot of my students look like. Also, we have these air purifiers, so sometimes I can’t even hear what they’re saying. It’s weird.

I’m looking forward to in-person classes, eventually. But I’m also a little worried and want to make sure that they’re safe. I’m conflicted: I’d much rather be teaching in person, but I also don’t want my students or their families getting sick or their families getting sick. I’m just excited to hopefully see some of these students in person next year.


COVID in the Community

COVID in the Community

This as-told-to interview is part of COVID in the Community, a series created by students in the Reporting classes at the Newhouse School in Spring 2021. COVID in the Community documents the experiences of Syracuse area residents living through this extraordinary time.

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is a contributor for The NewsHouse.