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Current Science Classroom

The New Normal

The Science Teacher—September/October 2020 (Volume 88, Issue 1)

By Chris Anderson

This past spring, I wrote in this column about the challenges and obstacles of remotely teaching science to high school students. Like most of you, I thought that by summer, America would have navigated through the worst challenges of the pandemic. Maybe COVID-19 would still be in the news, most of us could return to our normal lives. As it turns out, I was wrong. 

Instead, we will return to school either by resuming where left off in the spring with remote instruction, or under seemingly impossible conditions of wearing PPE while teaching and trying to keep students socially distanced. I wish I could give you all more advice or ways to be hopeful this year, but I don’t have that for you. We will be asked to do a hard job under seemingly impossible conditions. I won’t get into the contradictions of whatever policies your home state and district has or has not enacted; it’s just too infuriating. The reality is that this year, we are asking teachers to put their health on the line to educate students. 

If you’re scared, that’s okay. I’m scared too. 

So what can we do in the face of the worst pandemic in the last 100 years with little to no leadership? It can seem like an insurmountable problem, but there are things within your control that can have a positive impact on your school and community: 

  • Do your best to make sure kids have the things they need like food, shelter, and access to care. More and more students receive essential social services through school—if you are remote learning, focus on making sure your kids are safe and healthy above all else. 
  • Learning is critical, but with so many outside factors, it’s going to feel like you are constantly falling behind with instruction. More important than kids being on grade level is making sure they are safe and loved. Give your kids plenty of grace. Homework will get done one day, even if today is not that day.
  • Give kids context to what is happening in the world. They are going to ask questions that may take you off topic during your lesson—encourage their curiosity. Don’t be afraid to stray from what you’ve planned or that get emotional or are taboo. People will be writing and reading about this time for years to come so give your students all the space they need to process this. 
  • Do all the little things you can take to make sure you are in the best health possible. Exercise, limit your vices, eat healthily, get lots of sleep and, of course, get your vaccination for flu season. 
  • Take care of each other, especially coworkers who you know are at risk. This virus can be indiscriminate with how it can ravage both the young and the old, but there are risk factors that can make a potential infection life-threatening. Some of your colleagues will be asked to risk their health to come to school; do what you can to ease their burden. 
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up if conditions aren’t safe. Advocate for yourself to be treated as the hero you are. Share your stories and raise your voice. I am not saying you won’t be free of consequences, but at least you’ll have a free conscience. 

One of my favorite people to read about is Teddy Roosevelt, not just for his force of personality, but the things he stood for and how he changed his views over his lifetime. He was a man of his era a lot of ways, but he was also years ahead of his time. In thinking about all the uncertainty this school year will bring, I am reminded now of his simple, yet brilliant quotes: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” It may not seem like much and it’s more than a little trite, but it’s so incredibly true for our moment. We’ve got rough waters ahead, no doubt, but small actions taken by everyone can have a monumental impact. 

Be safe. 

Chris Anderson (; @TheScienceJedi) is a science instructional coach for the Hamilton County ESC.

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