“That can’t possibly happen.”
That was Dan Brodien’s reaction last March when rumors circulated that schools might close due to COVID-19.
“I’ve been a teacher for 18 years and I never, ever thought that that would happen,” he said.
But it did happen.
Teachers were sent home and Brodien, an automotive technology instructor at Littleton High School, spent the spring teaching from his kitchen table.
It’s an experience he doesn’t want to repeat. Still, it made him a better educator, he said.
“I am a different teacher than I was a year ago. Even if we go back to ‘normal,’ as a teacher I think I’ve grown tenfold during COVID,” Brodien said during a roundtable hosted by Congresswoman Ann Kuster on Wednesday.
That growth was organic. It arose out of necessity, he said.
When schools shut down in March 2020, Littleton staff were forced to go remote. For some, the learning curve was steep. They adapted as they went along, and figured out new ways to teach students.
“I didn’t even know what Zoom was. Now I can effectively run Zoom meetings,” Brodien said. “I’m an auto mechanics guy. I know more about running a dump truck than I do about making a web page. But now I have a class page where I’m communicating with 75 kids.”
It was professional development, pandemic style.
Educators helped each other make adjustments, adapt to new technologies, and continue their educational mission.
“It really was like a network of everybody helping everybody to move forward,” he said. ” I didn’t gain this experience from going to a conference, or someone coming in. It was my neighbor who showed me ‘This is how you attach a video to your web page.’ I’ve done probably 10 years of learning in the last two years.”
The pandemic changed the students, too.
“I think something happened to our students when they were home. They realized they actually want to be in school,” he said. “They are excited to be here, and to do whatever they have to do to be here: Use hand sanitizer, wash every desk, wear facemasks.”
Brodien and others talked about the resiliency of students as schools transitioned between remote, hybrid and in-person modes, and dealt with quarantines and other disruptive COVID-prevention measures.
“Have they learned like they would have were we in the classroom? Probably not. But have they learned? They sure have,” said Nashua second-grade teacher, Michelle Quadros. “It’s all about attitude. We can choose to focus on everything they lost or we can spin it positively and think about all the other skills they’ve learned.”
She said federal funds through the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan relief package will help schools address pandemic-fueled problems — with mental health, food insecurity, and broadband access — as schools emerge from the pandemic.
“Fingers and toes crossed,” she said.
COVID has been particularly challenging for some families and educators.
Chichester sixth-grade teacher, Christopher Gagnon participated in Wednesday’s call from quarantine, after his young daughter was identified as a close contact.
“We’re awaiting test results,” he said, noting the same issue has impacted many others in his district. “I have 19 kids in my class. Throughout the year we’ve had kids in and out because they’ve been exposed or they’ve been quarantined. They’ve had to go home. When they go home they pick up the live streaming. But the parents and the families, their entire routines have been turned upside down. And I’m experiencing that now. It’s really difficult to find a babysitter for a toddler that’s in quarantine.”
The American Rescue Plan includes $350 million for New Hampshire K-12 schools. Those funds will advance re-opening efforts, increase broadband access, and improve education services for at-risk youth.
Kuster struck an optimistic tone that, with the help of the American Rescue Plan, students will rebound from COVID setbacks.
“Our Granite State educators have been hard at work to ensure our students receive a high-quality education as we continue efforts to end this public health crisis,” Kuster said.“The American Rescue Plan meets the demands of this moment and provides critical resources for our NH communities, including funding for our state’s public K-12 schools to bolster after-school and summer learning, and expand access to broadband services and devices. It was great to hear first-hand from our public school educators and to discuss how the American Rescue Plan supports our K-12 schools, children, and working families. There’s a lot of work to be done to recover and rebuild, and I thank all of our New Hampshire educators for their efforts to ensure no student is left behind.”