SHP Faculty Adjust to COVID Changes

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought an array of challenges and obstacles to students and faculty alike at Seton Hall Prep. From suddenly going online last March, to being sent online for two weeks this November, everything has been extremely unpredictable to say the least. Students have had to adjust to the idea of learning online and having minimal contact with their peers while teachers have to learn to teach online and have minimal contact with their students. In order to understand how teachers have been faring throughout these strange times, I spoke to chemistry teacher Ms. Biscgelia, English teacher Mr. Ford ’04, and gym coach Mr. Smith ’08 about their experiences with the sudden changes at school.

As many of you are aware, teachers have been utilizing Microsoft Teams to teach class and give assignments. I started by asking how teachers feel about the online school and if they are ever troubled by the lack of engagement and interaction between them and the students. It seemed as if teachers had a positive outlook on the new teaching system as Mr. Smith says, “Online school has worked out better than I expected. The use of Microsoft Teams has really been great with keeping in touch with my students.” However, there is still a difference from the in person interaction as he finished, saying, “I do, however, miss the interaction with the students in person. It is not the same feeling as having your students in front of you for a whole period and seeing them throughout the day in the hallways.” This is understandable as there is a clear-cut difference between speaking to someone online and speaking to him in person.

Ms. Bisceglia had another positive outlook on online school as she said, “Remote learning has been a challenge for not only the teachers but for the students. It is a huge adjustment for both parties, but I do feel blessed to have such an amazing support system from the faculty here at SHP and from the students so far.” The challenges presented with online school are very evident but I think that we can all agree with Ms. Bisceglia in saying that the school has done an excellent job in coming together to make it work.

Mr. Ford offered an important insight saying, “Online school is better than no school” as he makes sure to emphasize that we must appreciate what we have. However, he feels as if his usual “jokes are not landing like they typically would, so [he] feels pretty inept.”

Don’t worry Mr. Ford, we still love your jokes.

Another interesting take that he had which he heard from Mr. Schweitzer: “Teaching is like pouring gas over top of a car and hoping it gets in the tank.”

This means that teaching has now become putting the information out there for the students and they must choose whether to take it or not. This is tough for the teachers as they can have difficulty knowing if their information is going through to the students.

Teachers have been forced to change the work they give to students, whether that is a change in workload, giving tests online, or facilitating help for students who are struggling. I asked these teachers how they have changed the work they give from last year to now.

Mr. Smith said,  “The work for Physical Education has been much different this year than any years past. Usually we are able to do team sports and have our students run out on Verducci Field. However, this year that was not the case. Obviously teaching virtually for Physical Education is not the set up anyone in the Department wants. I think it is actually one of the hardest subjects to change over to remote when it comes down to it. We count on so much of our curriculum being a face-to-face learning environment where the students can change, but unfortunately we have not been given that ability yet this school year because of Covid-19.” It is clear to see how teaching online presents an issue for the Physical Education Department as they are not able to enjoy the same amount of physical activity and contact due to COVID-19 regulations. We can only hope that this clears up soon so students can make the same awesome memories that I was able to make in Phys. Ed. such as baseball outside or intense games of basketball in the gymnasium.

Ms. Bisceglia was fortunate enough to have less of a jurassic change but still had to make adjustments. She stated, “The work given this year clearly had to be adjusted. I always loved doing hands-on labs in small groups, which sadly could not occur due to health and safety. It does not mean that my students are not exposed to hands-on learning. I still incorporate it in my lessons but have adjusted to performing a lot of demos, practice problems, and large group discussions to ensure my students still receive that hands-on and visual aid to their learning.” From experience, I know that Ms. Bisceglia enjoys teaching her students through engaging labs. It is clear that the lack of hands-on learning presents an issue for many teachers, but it is good to see that she was able to make the appropriate adjustments to still give her students proper lessons.

Mr. Ford addressed the very obvious issue of cheating and said, “Trying to outwit cheating is almost impossible, so there’s less quizzing and more weight put on written work. The English Department has a few new programs that seem to keep guys busy without it being busy-work.”

Fortunately, it has been relatively smooth sailing for the English Department, and they have been able to make the proper adjustments to keep their students learning and working.

I was interested to see how teachers see their own students adjusting so I asked how they feel that their students are dealing with the change.

Ms. Bisceglia believed that her “students are adjusting okay. Most of them can communicate with [her] about how they are doing. The students do have an amazing support system within the community from their peers, teachers, guidance counselors, and the rest of the SHP faculty.” That is one aspect of online school that has been very evident. The school has done a great job of helping students and faculty get adjusted and adapted through these strange times.

However, like many teachers, Mr. Ford is not able to “read the barometer” of his students as well due to the very limited time in school. He feels as if “the school day is all business, so there’s minimal time to just shoot the breeze and see how guys are feeling. It’s a shame, but that’s the nature of the beast.”

Last, I asked the teachers if there was anything they missed from the pre-pandemic times at Seton Hall Prep.

The common theme among them was the interaction with students as Mr. Smith said that “[he] just [misses] the normal day to day workings of Seton Hall Prep. We all know how special of a place it is and [he] [misses] seeing former students in the hallway and having lunch with my fellow staff members. It is just an extremely weird year and [he] hopes we can get back to normal soon.”

Mr. Ford misses the schedule of the last year the most. He says, “Every minute counts this year. There’s no down time. I got into teaching for the down time. Now I have to work. Gross.” It is super important to still find the little moments of enjoyment in school, even if it seeks to be all business.

Ms. Bisceglia says with a positive mindset, “For me I do miss the interaction we have with our students. Luckily with technology, we do get some interaction, but it’s clearly different from what we were used to. I think as a community we have been able to come together, support one another, and keep that positive energy that SHP is known for.” For the students and faculty that were here last year, there has certainly been a change in atmosphere at school with less interaction between students and faculty. However, as Ms. Bisceglia said, we must keep a positive mindset and continue to support one another.

In these tough times, it is important to remember our school motto of “Hazard Zet Forward.” Students and faculty must work together in order to make the best of what we have and hopefully things will return to normal soon.