Returning to teaching after a pandemic brings certain challenges, according to Moran native Molly McEwan. She and her fiance, Tyson Carpenter, were living in China and working as teachers when the COVID-19 pandemic began in January.
Actually, they were traveling outside of China as news of the coronavirus began to spread and the country started to shut down. They returned Feb. 9, but schools were shuttered and lessons moved online. McEwan, who taught English and art, and other English teachers began making video lessons for students, dividing the load between them.
Students returned to in-person classes April 26.
It wasn’t easy, McEwan said.
And as the United States now grapples with decisions on how students and staff can safely return to school, McEwan shared her experience and advice.
She also recapped some of her experiences in articles on Feb. 4 and 17, and March 23. In those cases, she spoke of life under lockdown weeks before local residents began to have similar experiences.
While the school systems, the countries and their experiences with the pandemic may be very different, McEwan spoke about universal challenges in implementing safety measures and teaching young children during a difficult time.
CHINA REQUIRED safety measures such as wearing masks and sanitizing classrooms three times a day. Parents were not allowed inside the school gates. Students and teachers had their temperatures taken when they entered the campus and several times throughout the day.
Anyone who recorded a fever was sent home.
Wearing a mask made it especially difficult to teach English, McEwan said.
“It was a weird time,” she said. “Imagine trying to teach phonics and pronunciation in a foreign language when the students can’t see my mouth, and I can’t see theirs to know if they are speaking correctly or not.”
Gradually, wearing a mask became less strict as cases of the virus were elimated at school. The policy was not enforced after about a month, unless a student or teacher became sick with a cold or other illness.
The students had one term — what we would call a semester in the U.S. — before the virus hit. They left for a one-month holiday around the start of the new year, then stayed home with online learning for two-and a half months.
McEwan’s art classes were canceled when three foreign language teachers did not return to China during the outbreak. McEwan was then tapped to fill their shoes, and forced to drop her art classes.
The delay was most difficult for younger students, especially first- graders, McEwan said.
“They don’t quite have a grasp on the school structure yet,” she said. “They didn’t want to stay focused during classes. All this was made even more difficult by our school deciding to have classes from Monday through Saturday every week to make up for the lost time. That was hard on everyone, teachers and students both. It made for long weeks and burnt out just about everyone.”
About half of the students board at the school and go home on the weekends, so it was especially difficult for them.
“Overall, it was a strange and rushed term as we condensed a review of what was taught online and the rest of the curriculum into 10 weeks of classes,” McEwan said.
Surprisingly, McEwan said, the weeks flew by.
“Before I knew it, final exams were here, and now we’re on summer holiday.”
McEwan expects classes to resume as planned Sept. 1. She hopes to resume teaching art.
“Perhaps there will be some rules when we begin again. I assume they will continue monitoring everyone’s temperature, but past that I’m not sure,” she said.
“It’s hard to say this far in advance what will happen. If we’ve learned anything from all this, it’s how quickly things can change. No one knows how it will be next week, let alone in September.”
TEACHERS need to be patient with their students when school does resume, McEwan advised. Everyone’s lives have been disrupted by the pandemic.
“The kids are missing sports and social events and clubs, younger kids have had their routine uprooted and when they get back into the classroom they will need to rebuild all those classroom behaviors again,” she said.
“I think structure is really important right now, and to just be there for them. This is a very strange time for us all.”
IN A NORMAL year, McEwan would have returned to visit family in Allen County this summer.
But because of travel restrictions, she would have been unable to return to China if she left.
“If not for the pandemic, I imagine I would be enjoying many a sunset from my parent’s porch, enjoying driving a car, attending two of my friends’ weddings, and eating entirely too much home-cooked food,” she lamented.
Instead, she and Tyson remained in China.
“Zhejiang has been very safe for months and we haven’t had much of the virus here, so a lot of the restrictions have relaxed,” she said. “Everything is open and running, we can travel inside our province, and everything is pretty much back to normal.”