A New Normal for Christian Classrooms

Earlier this week I returned home from work despondent. I hadn’t had a “bad day.” I was simply overwhelmed. Between mask wearing and mask monitoring, trying to balance my attention between the in-class and the online students, and working to prepare for the end of the most challenging school year in my twenty years of teaching at a Lutheran school, I was just “done” for the day.

A New “Normal” for Classes

In an effort to lighten my mood, my wife reminded me with a smile that the light at the end of the tunnel really was daylight and not a train. I imagine such an experience is not unique. More and more as teachers push to the finish line, the mantra of encouragement is growing, “Next year when things return to normal . . . "

I heard that again yesterday and it hit me: there is no going back. Things will never be the same as they were before the COVID Year. Students’ learning frameworks are radically altered from the increased reliance on screen-based learning. Behavior management systems were adjusted to accommodate the need for flexibility and now we’ve engrained a new set of expectations in our returning students. The imposition of technology in the classroom transformed from an exercise in best practices to implementation of survival strategies. Curriculum goals have been jettisoned to accommodate for the additional time required by “COVID teaching.” Teachers can’t take a well-deserved respite during the short summer months and return to school expecting that everything will return to normal.

Prepare Your Students for Learning Curves

It’s not just the idea of continuing mask mandates and social distancing to which I refer. We must take seriously that the culture of education has dramatically shifted—in ways that we haven’t begun to quantify. We educators have a herculean task ahead of us and, quite frankly, we have a short amount of time in which to accomplish it. So much for summer respite; we’re not out of the tunnel yet! Did someone just hear a train whistle?

So how do even begin to go about preparing for the “new normal”? I’m certain I don’t have all the answers, but here are some recommendations:

1.) Take an inventory of the new teaching strategies that you employed over the year. Categorize both successes and failures. Identify and describe the elements that contributed to the strategies you listed in either category. If you have time, invite your students into the evaluative process and let them share what they believe went well or completely tanked. Most importantly, ask them why.

2.) Identify new technologies that you utilized, whether it be a video camera in your room, a green bedsheet for a technological backdrop, or an app you found with untapped potential. Commit to improving your technology repertoire by researching and planning intentional implementation of your discoveries.

3.) Thoughtfully consider the experiences in your students’ lives that impacted their learning, especially experiences that were unique to the pandemic. Evaluate your preparedness to minister during those experiences and plan for next year accordingly.

I invite readers to share their own ideas in the comments section as we support each other through this transition.

Be Encouraged by Christ’s Comfort

Admittedly, this blog may be a bit discouraging for those who are barely surviving a brutal year in the teaching trenches. However, we are not alone. Remember that as teachers we stand in the stead of the great rabbi who loved his disciples even to the point of death! Each of us has been placed by God into unique circumstances with unique children for unique purposes.

As St. Paul once reminded the Corinthians, let me encourage you as well:

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair . . . always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4:8, 10).

We are tired, but we are not alone, for the one who carried our sins to the cross continues to carry us through our weariness.

Sure, there is work to do; but in spite of being tired and overwhelmed and maybe just a little oxygen-deprived, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. That light is the glory of Christ who beckons us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). May his light give rest to your soul as you bid your students goodbye for the summer and prepare for the fall.

Spend some time this summer discovering best teaching practices as we prepare to return to a different new normal this fall.

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Joe Cox

Rev. Joe Cox serves as the head of the English department at Lutheran High School South in St. Louis, Missouri. He also coaches the school’s mock trial teams. Joe is married to Barb Cox, and they have two adult children, Caleb and Megan. In his free time, Joe enjoys playing board games and traveling.

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