I did not know that Friday, March 13 would be the last time I would see my students in our classroom at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis. In fact, people around the country likely had little idea of what was to come as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Who could have foreshadowed that schools and businesses would close, social distancing would become part of our daily vocabulary, and we would have to wear face coverings in public? We could spend hours talking about what we could have done or how simpler life was just a few short months ago, but that will not help us in our current predicament.
I, like the rest of the world, found myself in a new reality that I had to quickly come to terms with for the sake of my students. I am a theology teacher to nearly 100 10th grade students across four sections, and while our world has come to a near standstill, their learning simply cannot take a similar hiatus. Tenth grade is such an important time in adolescent development because students are discovering who they are and what they are passionate about. These facts combined with a growing pandemic meant that I essentially had a weekend to redesign my course to fit an online format and be ready to greet and reassure my students on Monday morning.
This is something that I did not go to school for. In fact, no one has, except maybe those who specialize in online learning. They may have a slight advantage here. For me, I have an iPad, a course website, and a few new apps that my school’s technology team identified as helpful tools to maximize and differentiate learning. I also have the support of the teachers in my department who I talk with regularly to share ideas and administrators who offer their ideas to engage students in this new format. With these tools and resources, I made the best of a situation and ventured into the unknown, and the results have been very encouraging!
The best lesson I have learned from this experience is to not worry about making mistakes or being an expert with technology. This is new for everyone, and I know my students appreciate everything their teachers are doing to maintain consistent routines, create engaging lessons, and reassure them that we will get through this together. I have learned to forgive myself and to be willing to venture far outside my comfort zone. If there is a program, app or activity that will really benefit my students and enhance their learning experience, I want to try it out. This is a great, hands-on professional development opportunity, and the skills I learn during distance learning will make me a stronger teacher when we return to school.
Community is another story. My community has always emphasized the importance of self-care, but how do we effectively do that when all five of us are home now every single day? How do we balance our work, our community responsibilities, and our own leisure while largely confined to our home? These are questions we quickly answered together, and in the last two months, we have only grown closer together as a community.
While our daily prayers and shared evening meal has not changed, we built new activities into our daily routine such as an evening walk around the neighborhood (six feet apart of course!), fish fry Friday’s during Lent, a Saturday prayer service and pizza dinner, and game night. I have even experimented in the kitchen with creative entrees and desserts I have always wanted to make. We all have a little more time now to do these nice things with each other we may have wanted to do before, but the busyness of work and social events often got in the way. This time of staying at home has given us a chance to refocus, regroup and find new ways to connect with each other. Like the support of my colleagues at school, this support from my community also has helped me get through a truly challenging period.
As our time at home continues and as life slowly and safely returns to “normal,” I am going to remember the lessons that I learned during this period: to slow down and enjoy the moment. It is amazing how much we can learn when we pause and enjoy the things we often overlook!
Joseph Samuel Rogers is a second-year volunteer at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, serving as a theology teacher and campus minister. He is a 2014 graduate of Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and a 2018 graduate of La Salle University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with a degree in secondary education and English.