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How Loyola Prepared Me to Teach During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Sarah Flaherty teaching her students in-person and via Zoom

Sarah Flaherty teaching her students in-person and via ZoomSarah Flaherty is a student in Loyola University Maryland’s 5th year MAT Master’s Degree Program and is a first-year teacher at Archbishop Curley High School in Baltimore, Md. We sat down with Sarah to get her take on teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am originally from Pembroke, MA. I went to Loyola University Maryland for my undergraduate degree. I majored in computer science with a math minor. I am now a part of Loyola’s Master of Arts in Teaching program.

What do you teach?

I teach algebra 1 and geometry to students in grades 9 – 12. I also teach a computer science elective for juniors and seniors.

What does a typical school week look like for you?

It's a bit complicated! My school is on a hybrid schedule. On Mondays and Tuesdays, students with names A-L are in the classroom, and students with names M-Z are on Zoom. And on Thursday and Friday, we switch. So outside of Wednesdays, which are asynchronous days, I'm teaching students both in-person and online simultaneously.

What are the biggest challenges of hybrid teaching?

I think the greatest challenge with teaching hybrid is figuring out how to make the class interactive and collaborative for students both online and in-person. Or, in other words, making sure I'm engaging with the students on Zoom while remaining fully present in the classroom. You also want students to work together and grow socially, but social distancing and the virtual environment has made that difficult.

What do you wish the general public knew about teaching during COVID-19?

Every day is so unbelievably different. The craziest aspect is that we don't know what tomorrow could bring. Our first quarter we were using a completely different system and it could change next quarter.

People need to know how much pressure this is putting on everyone—especially our students. They should understand that students aren’t falling behind academically, they're doing their best to learn and complete assignments while living through a pandemic.

As for teachers, I'm on the younger side and have technology experience, but I've watched the panic of veteran educators. Teachers who have been teaching the same way for 20 years now have to adapt to a new way of educating students. We have to show them some grace as well.

Are there any silver linings of the experience?

My students LOVE to come to school now. They've gained a deeper appreciation for the learning experience. My M-Z students are always saying, "We're SO happy it's finally Thursday and we can come to class." That brings me so much joy.

I think this experience has also thrown students into the deep end of independence. It can be scary at times, but ultimately it's helping them prepare for the real world. They have to track their own work, motivate themselves to get on Zoom—there's a real sense of accountability.

What message of inspiration or hope might you give other educators facing similar challenges?

Try to keep it positive! You might not cover all the math as flawlessly as you would in a normal year. But let's not dread learning, let's even make coming to a Zoom session an enjoyable and productive hour of every day.

Trust me…if you're not having fun, your students aren't having fun. Yes, we need to cover the material, but don't forget to be human, too.

What made you choose Loyola for your graduate degree?

I loved Loyola so much as an undergraduate student, I wasn’t ready to leave! The professors and advisors at Loyola have been a huge inspiration and support system over the years.

How did Loyola prepare you to be adaptable to teach online?

Loyola has prepared me well to be a teacher and I believe that encompasses the ‘adaptability’ skill. From rewriting lessons because students were struggling to teaching on zoom, I feel as though my Loyola education has taught me how to stay focused on my goals and remain calm in the face of adversity.