Back In The Classroom


June 9, 2022 by Jean

adult sunday school clip art - Clip Art LibraryOne of the joys of this spring was finding myself back in the classroom – the real classroom rather than the virtual classroom. Beginning in late March, I took some in-person classes at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens (the first indoor classes there since 2019) and taught an in-person course at the Senior College.

My in-person course at the Senior College was on Perennial Gardening – a six-week course that I was preparing to teach in spring 2020 when the pandemic cancelled classes. I resisted teaching this class on Zoom in the intervening time, preferring to wait until I could do it in person – even if that did take two years. While classes on Zoom kept me connected and saved my sanity during the pandemic, there’s a rush that I get from sharing ideas and knowledge in a real classroom that just can’t be duplicated online.

Of course, Covid created some complications for in-person teaching and learning. Both the Senior College and the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens required that students and instructors provide proof of up-to-date Covid vaccinations (fully vaccinated plus one booster), which greatly reduced the risks of gathering indoors. When I attended my first class at the botanical gardens in late March, everyone opted to wear masks while we were in the classroom; by the time I attended the garden design classes in April, most participants were not wearing masks in the classroom.

The Covid situation was similarly fluid at the Senior College. When I was planning my course in March, the university campus where our classes meet had a policy of requiring masks in all classroom and laboratory spaces. Since it’s hard to project your voice when wearing a mask, I purchased a wireless headset and small amplifier that I could wear for teaching while masked. By the time the class began in April, however, cases were declining in Maine and the university decided to give instructors the discretion to waive the mask requirement within their classrooms. After polling my students, I decided to waive the requirement in our class. I also warned them, however, that the situation was changeable and that, because I wanted the most cautious person in the class to feel safe, they should be prepared to don masks if anyone in the class requested that we do so. It turned out that the most cautious person in the class was me. By our last two weeks of class, infections from the more contagious Omicron variants were spreading rapidly in Maine and I was feeling uncomfortable enough (even with everyone vaccinated and with a window cracked open for ventilation) to wear a mask in class. This gave me an opportunity to try out my personal amplification system, which worked well.

Have I been tempted to give up on in-person classes, given the hassles of dealing with Covid uncertainties? Definitely not! There is an excitement that comes from bouncing ideas around in a classroom that I have not experienced online. I also appreciate the opportunities for meeting and interacting with new people that in-person classes provide. In my first garden design class at the botanical gardens, I was chatting with another student during a break and discovered that she had been a student in an academic department where I was a faculty member forty years ago! That interaction would not have happened online. I am looking forward to being back at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens for two more classes later in June. I will continue to test before I go and to wear a mask in the classroom if the local infection level warrants. I’m happy to learn from my experiences this spring that, with a little attention and care on my part, I can keep myself safe and still engage in these activities that enrich my life.

6 thoughts on “Back In The Classroom

  1. Sue McPhee says:

    So glad you were able to return to in-person teaching. I fully agree that interaction in person is far more satisfying than the Zoom thing. I have not returned to in-person performing. Not sure when I will. I do need to pick your brain concerning the use of an amplifier PLUS mask. Seems like it might be awkward but you seem to be feeling comfortable with it. What particular brand and model of equipment are you using, if you don’t mind my asking? I have so much more to tell you about what has gone on in the last year but I will do that in a private Facebook message or email. We are long overdue for a chat.

  2. Stacy says:

    The fluidity of COVID best practices is a real challenge. I’m so glad your students were reasonable and flexible, that you found technology that could meet your needs, and that you got to teach real human beings in person!

  3. The Misadventures of Widowhood says:

    I’m happy for you to be able to in person teach again. I’m sure your students were likewise glad to be able to share that experience with you. Covid protocols has changed all our lives.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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