Even though schools have returned to in-person learning, they have encountered obstacles when attempting to operate at full capacity, especially when teachers testing positive for COVID-19. Since infected teachers must isolate for two weeks, students have been left to rise to the occasion and work together to stay productive without the guidance of those teachers in class.
At Skyline High School, a Spanish teacher left school for two weeks because of a positive COVID test. It happened right when third-year Spanish students were preparing for their first unit exam, which assesses everything they had learned up to that point.
For a language class, the loss of a teacher effectively removes the model speaker of that language from class. The substitute teachers did not speak Spanish and were not able to help the students with the material. As a result, students had a hard time focusing and working with each other, and most of them socialized with each other during the entire period.
“Our classroom got sidetracked a lot so we couldn’t really work on our classwork,” Anjali Alwar, a sophomore, said. “People were only talking to their own friends and friend groups…and it became more like a social hour.”
All the students received was a daily worksheet, and even the best students acknowledged that learning a foreign language on their own was incredibly difficult.
A similar situation unfolded at Eastlake High School. The director of the marching band, Luke Dahlberg, was gone for 10 school days, right before the marching band was to perform at their homecoming game.
But in this case, students took matters into their own hands. The band was able to piece together an impressive spy-themed performance. The three senior drum majors — Shaan Chetanwala, Ashley Adrian, and Preksha Mittal — led the band’s practice and made sure everyone was on task. The substitute teachers were only there to keep order, since none of them could direct a band.
“I think it [Mr. Dahlberg’s absence] brought the band closer together because we had to like problem solve and prepare ourselves for the performance,” said Deniz Tezcan, a sophomore who plays the alto-saxophone.
Ellie Astle, a sophomore, plays the French horn in Eastlake’s concert band and the mellophone in the marching band. She recalled that the drum majors were not able to direct the marching band during school for her period, but they were there for the after-school rehearsals. This added stress to the band, as they had no official leadership without the drum majors.
“I reached out to my friends and there was a lot of talking in our section about our section leader taking charge and how she’s making sure we know what we are doing with our instruments and our individual parts. It [the band] was a lot more self-supported,” Astle said.
Dahlberg, the band teacher, said he did not want to pressure his students into taking on such a daunting task, but after watching the student-led performance, he feels the band is in good hands.
“I was just so proud of my students, and I know I’m really fortunate to be in such a supportive community,” he said.
A math classroom at Eastlake has not had its teacher in-person since the second day of school. Christine Everson, who teaches Calculus BC, suffers from severe cardiovascular health issues, which puts her at increased risk of COVID-19 complications.
Before the age of 35, Everson went through nine heart surgeries and a stroke. She has had a pacemaker since 19. The school granted Everson an exception to teach from home, while her students get their lesson through a Teams meeting that is projected at the front of the class.
In the beginning of the year, substitute teachers would come in to supervise the students, but now that the upperclassmen understand how to run the class, the in-person setting is entirely student-run.
“It [Ms. Everson’s absence] in fact brought our class closer together because we were able to come together during this new circumstance,” Anika Arugunta, a senior, said. “This is the first time where the teacher is online and all of us are in person, so it’s up to the kids to make sure the class is running smoothly.”
Arugunta believes that working in a student-led environment actually made it easier to connect with new people. Due to this unique set up, most students are supportive and helpful of each other.
Everson said her Calculus students have taken ownership of their learning without falling behind her students in previous years.
“This has been the first time that I wasn’t able to come up with a solution where I could be in the classroom in the way that I had before, and I was incredibly impressed with their [her students] kindness and care,” Everson said.