Karima Hastings

The Meher School
Lafayette, CA
Karima Hastings, Teachers

Hybrid Classroom – Better Than I Imagined

The US Department of Education wants to know what’s going well in our hybrid classroom. Should I tell them? We’ve only been back on campus for 7 days and my former second grade class was already quarantined on day 3 of third grade. Someone tested “presumptive positive” and the whole sha-bang folded back into 100% distance learning. So, I’m aware of the fragility of the system, which makes it a little scary to say it out loud… But here it goes, the second grade hybrid and 100% pods are… going really well! Better than I imagined! Now that I said it out loud, won’t bad things happen? Won’t my classroom implode, or automatically deflate? This year is full of uncertainty, so I just have to focus on the now, and what’s been going so darn great and try not to “what if” everything.

The great part took a little while to emerge. We started this year off with distance learning, which was a first for us, and it was tricky, but we had some practice in the spring, so I felt like it was manageable. But the first few days back in the physical classroom were a different sort of adjustment. Since we’d divided up our classroom community into pods of 12, I didn’t have my teaching partner to lean on anymore. She was assigned to the former library that’d been converted into a classroom, and was busy teaching her own group. In my own pod, I was balancing and holding the energy of my brand new students, solo. The children who I felt like I knew from a month of online learning seemed anxious, needy, and over talkative in person. It was puzzling. I questioned a lot. Does their schoolwork look developmentally younger than in years past? Are they going to keep interrupting me while I try to teach? There’s no mute button. Hum. That WAS handy. Do they remember how to be students? Do I remember how to teach?

So I would say, the first 3 days back in the physical classroom were hard. My filter was thin. My irritability high. We were still creating routines and carving out structure and adjusting to group classroom living again with a super hygienic twist, which took a lot of energy all around.

As the days passed, and the kids started to get used to classroom routines, a sense of normalcy appeared. We collectively exhaled. That cozy feeling of being a happy, and healthy classroom family washed over me. It reminded me of something I missed from my last year’s 2nd grade class that was abruptly taken away last spring.

Now suddenly back in the physical world, and out from behind a computer screen, the joy of being able to easily find an assignment stored in a file cabinet and after photocopying it, simply handing it to the children made me giddy. Ha ha! What a joy. No uploading, no attaching it to Google Classroom, or Seesaw to be printed out, at home, fingers crossed.

The other happy realization of being back on campus was adding the arts into our daily routine. Dance, storytelling, and music are woven into our day in little bursts. It’s the glue that holds our work together in the classroom. It’s what keeps things light and cheerful. It’s quite frankly what we call, the magic. Heavy academic burdens are too much to shoulder. We’re especially fragile now and can’t stomach that kind of work. So being back in the physical room is healing and happy-making with the arts to keep us afloat. It’s really hard to replicate that online and so refreshing to do it in person!

A really great surprise that floored me was discovering that Zoom in the classroom is really great! We have a 5th grade teacher simultaneously Zooming math lessons into the 2nd grade classroom, and to the 100% distance students at home. It’s been charming to see a beloved teacher’s smiling face and the students’ happy gratitude. We also have a music teacher who Zooms in on Mondays to lead group sing-alongs. Our art teacher and gardening teacher don’t Zoom but they both make the best videos to teach their lessons. They’re all so clearly bringing their “A games” that they bring tears to my eyes! Definitely the guest teachers are a highlight of the week.

At first all the new Covid-19 preventative protocols seemed like a lot and they were nearly overwhelming, but like anything, with practice and time, things have become easier and new habits have formed. Spraying down the yoga mats that they use every day to sit 6 feet apart, or washing out the rags they use to wash their tables each day, is becoming second nature. Spraying, scrubbing and washing are becoming the new normal and it’s kind of fun!

Overall, the main theme that we need to keep in mind in our hybrid life, is giving ourselves permission to let things go, and focus on the emotional health of our students. This morning as two students entered the room in tears, one who was feeling fragile, and the other had forgot their mask, I decided, then and there, we needed to take it slow. There’s no rush to see who could win the spelling bee, or read the fastest, or know as many math facts as possible. We’re on a rollercoaster of emotions and some days we’re on top and others we’ve barely got momentum to push forward, but the beautiful part is that we’re in this together. We feel supported and cared for and that’s what’s important.

I am hyper aware that this year is anyone’s game and this show could suddenly disappear and blow us back to distance learning for a good period of time, but for now, I’ll savor every moment and feel grateful for today.