Veteran teachers are figuring out their new normal


An empty classroom adjusted to fit the COVID protocols

The halls at FHC went silent. The classrooms were left untouched. But the learning could not stop, so the teachers had to persevere through quarantine. The students learned in their pajamas from their homes, and the teachers taught the same way.

Many of the teachers never imagined they would ever have to struggle through anything like a pandemic and the complete shut-down of schools, even after the Swine Flu in 2009 when school was shut down for one day.

But while most teachers never imagined something like this could happen, World History teacher Brad Anderson did.

“Being a history guy, we were due for some sort of generational challenge,” Anderson said. “Now, I didn’t imagine it would be like this, but certainly I thought, on a long and long enough timeline, we were going to be challenged as a society, and here we are.”

One of the more challenging items from this obstacle of COVID-19 this year for teachers is being prepared. In past years, teachers usually planned ahead for weeks out, and many of them would use their lesson plans from previous years to guide them. This year, however, that is not an option.

Chemistry teacher David VonEhr is no exception to this.

“The online is a challenge, and it takes a lot of time to set things up,” VonEhr said, “and the lessons are all new because I can’t do the same thing I’ve done year after year because things don’t blend together. So no, I’m not prepared; I’m trying really hard to keep up. No hesitation, no, [but] it’s been a challenge.”

Although the lesson plans of teachers are a large challenge to overcome, VonEhr has a different hurdle to jump, one that means more to him.

Masks are the bane of most people’s existence for how uncomfortable and hot they can get after long periods of use, but for VonEhr, they also propose a lack of connection.

“Looking at your masks [is the hardest part of teaching this year],” VonEhr said. “If you’re a new student and I know nothing about you, I can’t read you, and I can’t have a conversation with you because we’re not showing expressions. [It’s the] same thing for me; you don’t know if I’m smiling or scowling. You have no idea what’s going on behind this mask, and I think it’s going to be hard to get to know the students and to discuss and talk.”

Unlike VonEhr, French teacher Laurie Van Houten only has two classes that have students who are new to her, so her interaction with students is slightly easier.

“The personality of the class is a little different because different kids bring different things, so when only half of us are there it’s odd,” Van Houten said. “It’s going to be harder to get to know my French 1 kids because I only see them twice a week. And I don’t see their faces, but with everybody else, I know who they are. We have had that connection, but it’s going to be harder, I think, to make that connection. The flow is going to be harder, but we’ll make it work.”

Some teachers have their own unique drawbacks based on the classes they’re teaching alone.

Band director Laura Zilhaver has to deal with the same social distance and mask requirements as all of the teachers in the rest of the school, but with being in charge of a band with wind instruments, she has to be extra cautious.

Be kind [and] have grace. Both teachers to students and students to teachers. We’re going to have glitches. I’ve already had a couple. We’re going to have things not be exactly correct, so we have to know that and just be gentle with each other as we work through this.

— Van Houten

Zilhaver has been learning through bands across the world how to stay safe. She has implemented bell covers—“spandex fabric placed over the instrument bells”—and has started sanitizing equipment more often. The band is also only playing outside for the time being as well.

But despite these hoops—and the notoriously unpredictable Michigan weather—Zilhaver is proud of her students and their engagement.

“Everyone is disappointed about the marching season and no in-person performances right now,” Zilhaver said, “but that is not stopping the majority of students from continuing to participate in band. Every day I see kids happy to be here, ready to learn, [and] glad to be making music together again, even if it is different.”

In light of these differences Zilhaver mentioned, the teachers believe they can make this an inspiring year despite all the learning curves for students and teachers alike.

“I haven’t given up,” VonEhr said. “I’m just starting. I made the quote to [Biology teacher Kristy] Butler that I was going to be like Fawkes from Harry Potter. Right now, I’m like Fawkes burning up, and I want to be like Fawkes rising from the ashes in my classroom. That’s my goal this year, to be the rising Fawkes and my students all walking out feeling like they had a good year.”

As VonEhr has his goals, Anderson has his philosophy. And both teachers—along with the entirety of FHC staff—have a positive attitude to share.

“Take it one hour at a time [and] take it one day at a time for now,” Anderson said. “We will get back to normal. There will be assemblies, there will be sporting events with student sections, and there will be all the things that we love about school, beyond the classroom. It might not be on our watch, but it will come back. Just take it one hour at a time, one day at a time. Plan for the worst, hope for the best.”