As fall term comes to an end, teachers are reflecting on their classes and the accommodations they made to make their curriculums engaging and balanced during this unusual academic year. One of the biggest changes made this year was the new block schedule, where students only take two courses each trimester.
Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs Dr. Ivory Hills explained, “Our primary rationale for the schedule was to limit the number of close contacts in the event of positive COVID tests.”
Some teachers have responded very enthusiastically to the change. Science Teacher Rich Calhoun said, “I actually really like the block schedule. I had the double block with AP before, so it’s not that big of a change.”
He explained that student work quality has greatly improved as they have fewer classes to focus on. “The work that they are doing on projects in group work is like a different group of students than in past years. The project work is so much better because they have the ability to focus,” Calhoun said.
However, other teachers have had trouble with making such substantial changes to their curriculum and teaching styles. French Teacher Yanik Nichols said, “There is no way we can cover the same amount of material in the same way, so we’ve had to pick and choose what we want to cover. That was a huge adjustment.”
She also explained how in past years, she took students to different areas on campus such as the iLab, Greenhouse, and von Auersperg Gallery to conduct projects. However, she was unable to do so this year with how short the term is. “All of that is very different,” she said.
As well as adjusting to a new academic schedule, teachers have had to grapple with teaching both remote and in-person students. Having experienced many methods of instruction in the last nine months, many teachers feel that teaching all online or all in-person is much easier than teaching a hybrid model.
English Teacher Andy Stallings said, “The most difficult adjustment is having one student remote at just about any given time. Having only one student remote feels like a struggle to make things equitable for everybody. So even though I am aware of it and trying to adjust for it, there is no way to make it so that the person remote is having the same experience as the people in the classroom.”
Nichols agreed. She said, “Having students online and in-class at the same time I find quite tricky. It’s almost easier to have everyone online or everyone in class rather than half and half.”
Beginning in the spring of the last academic year, teachers received training on how to use a variety of online platforms and mechanisms such as Zoom, Padlet, Loom, and Swivl. Teachers have tried to take full advantage of the new resources Deerfield has provided them, but sometimes face challenges navigating the new technology.
Nichols, who has had all but one of her students remote at one point or another since in-person teaching resumed, said, “I have gotten a lot of support from people like Ms. Hayes-Golding and Ms. Otterson next door, who comes and helps me.”
Nichols added, “I think the kids have been great with me as well, and I’ve learned a ton. For example, when I can’t get something to someone, students get their peers up on Facetime or on the telephone.”
While teachers have expressed their gratitude to the resources and support the Deerfield community provided, many agree that online classes or even a hybrid model cannot fully replace in-person teaching.
Although teachers faced various technological difficulties, increased use of certain technologies has been beneficial to student learning in some classes.
Stallings said, “It’s actually been really great and positive in terms of consistency of when people hand things in, but also it has been great for asynchronous discussions which have let me build conversations about process into the assignments and it has helped the students grow so much more quickly as writers.”
At the beginning of the term, all teachers started in-person teaching outside of the classroom, following the Healthy Deerfield Guidelines for students’ return to campus. Stallings said, “It was really easy for me to adjust outside.”
Even after teachers were allowed to return to the classroom for instruction, many embraced the outdoors as a teaching space throughout the term. Calhoun, who teaches AP Environmental Science, said, “We are spending the same amount of time outdoors as we have in the past, however, the work that we’re doing outdoors has a narrative element to it beyond just collecting data.”
Science teachers are not the only teachers still taking advantage of outdoor spaces while they can. Stallings has continued to regularly hold his poetry class outdoors. He said, “It has been remarkably easy as it helps students have more space to do their writing; they can find their own spot.” The outdoor spaces Deerfield has provided to students and teachers is, as Stallings stated, “Pedagogically useful as well as simply just nice.”
Dr. Hills said that the Deerfield administration plans to communicate with teachers to get their overall opinion of the term. “We intend to conduct focus groups and surveys over December to learn more,” he explained. He added that he will also be sending surveys to the student body in order to understand their perspective better.
The circumstances of COVID-19 have required teachers to adjust their methods of teaching in unimaginable ways. Teaching a course in one term, moving to a hybrid model, and having to teach outdoors are just some of the changes teachers have made this year. With winter term around the corner, only time will tell if teachers need to make further adjustments.