Behind the Masks: Altamont Staff Reveal Stresses, Lessons of Teaching in a Pandemic

Caroline Reddington

Caroline Reddington

Friday, October 15, 2021
Behind the Masks: Altamont Staff Reveal Stresses, Lessons of Teaching in a Pandemic

Photo of yearbook and mask by Caroline Reddington.

The Covid-19 pandemic has totally changed the world’s definitions of normal, our views on public health, and everyday life, including certain jobs. That’s especially true of teaching. Educators around the globe have voiced their concerns about teaching in the time of Covid, and not just from a health perspective. Over the past year and half, teachers have had to approach what they do in completely different ways. The Acta Diurna got the perspectives of four Altamont staffers as they reflected on their experiences during the pandemic, obstacles they had to overcome, and their biggest concerns, as well as some positive takeaways from the experience.  

According to Eddy DunnJ.P. HemingwayLaura Ottaviani-Chacon, and Larry McCain, the 2020-2021 school year was anything but normal for students, parents, and teachers. All four agreed that the main hardships of teaching during earlier stages of the pandemic were distance learning and the hybrid distance/in-person plan that many schools, including Altamont, had to use last school year.  

When Mr. Dunn was asked if the pandemic changed the nature of his job, he responded, “Well, it definitely made things a little more challenging, especially when we went to distance learning.”  

For a portion of last school year, his job – mainly fixing computers and solving other technological issues – became difficult. His role often requires him to be on campus in-person, unlike teachers at Altamont who were able to do their job from home.  

“While a teacher could go home and teach through Teams and the student could be home, attending a class through Teams, if a student had a cracked screen, I couldn’t fix that through Teams,” he said. As a result, he said, distance-learning created a lot of difficulty and frustration for him.  

Ms. O-C said that during hybrid/distance learning, it was hard to keep online students engaged. She said students frequently would resist turning their cameras on and were prone to getting distracted because they were at home.  

For Mr. McCain, the most difficult part of last school year’s semester-long classes was realizing he just could not get to everything he wanted to cover. He said he really had to consider which parts of his course were the most important and to weed out segments that weren’t. But on the plus side, he said he and other teachers learned that there were a lot of things that teachers try to implement in their courses that really aren’t that beneficial or meaningful, that don’t have long-term value to students: “It actually freed us up in the ability to look at those things … [But] that was also very challenging because you have to get rid of things you would normally teach just because there’s not enough time and space.”  

For Mr. McCain, the skills that survived the cut included the basics: he had to make sure that his students knew how to improve their writing and how to read critically.  

Lastly, for Ms. Hemingway, the biggest challenge to teaching during Covid was the hybrid learning plan. She said that it was very hard, not only for teachers, but for online students, too. She described her own experience with attending meetings via Zoom and Teams, saying that being online while other people were in person was a very “dislocating” and “isolating” feeling. 

Ms. Hemingway added that school ran the most smoothly either when everyone was in-person or when everyone was doing distance-learning. Realizing the flaws and the unsustainable nature of the hybrid learning plan was a huge takeaway from last year, she said, which resulted in the decision not to put the hybrid learning plan into effect again.  

As the world gradually returns to normal, many people are experiencing anxieties about public health. When these four teachers were asked about their personal levels of anxiety regarding school going back to full capacity this year, their responses varied. Mr. Dunn said that he doesn’t have a whole lot of anxiety regarding his personal safety. Ms. Hemingway says that, while she doesn’t have personal anxieties about the virus, she does have concerns for the well-being of the school as a whole and will do all she can to make sure that health and safety are a priority at Altamont. Mr. McCain and Mrs. O-C say that they share those concerns about the health of the school community as well as a certain level of anxiety about returning to full capacity.  

Though the pandemic has brought a lot of negativity to school life, in the eyes of these faculty members, there have been some positives from the experience as well. Mr. Dunn emphasized all the knowledge Altamont gained about the 1-to-1 computer program and about how to effectively participate in distance learning. Mr. McCain learned more about what he really thought was most important to include in his courses. From Ms. O-C’s point of view, two positive things that emerged were the sense of community among faculty and the flexibility and convenience that our technology and online tools provided, such as help-session Teams calls. And finally, Ms. Hemingway said the pandemic has given her and others an opportunity for insight and to think about school in a different light: though there has always been a general unspoken understanding that Altamont is way more than the classes students take every day, Covid has really prompted people to talk about the importance of a student’s overall experience, span of influence, and role outside of the classroom, making all that even more important now than ever before.   

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