Teacher Q&A: A Unique Return to School

What teachers are thinking upon returning to school after a year of hybrid teaching.


Caitlyn Carpenter

MHS teacher settles into classroom post-COVID, with fewer restrictions than last year.

Ben Kulish, Features Page Director

This year, more than in the past, back-to-school jitters ran high. After over a year of uncertain and unfamiliar schooling, the Mamaroneck High School community was eager to enter a school year feeling some sense of normality. No one understands this as intimately as MHS’ teachers, who have been at Mamaroneck High School since the summer preparing for their students’ arrival. The Globe asked four teachers about their feelings surrounding this momentous return.

Teachers first spoke about moving into their old classrooms, re-establishing Palmer as the humanities building and Post as the STEM building. For teachers, leaving familiar classrooms last year was a major change, and this year’s return represents a larger shift towards familiarity. Juliana Zalon, who teaches 10th grade English and Creative Writing, and Lauren Onorato, student support services teacher, described their experiences.

Q: How does it feel to move back into your old classroom?
Juliana Zalon: Amazing! I missed so many things about Palmer— the beautiful tree out my window, all the books on my bookshelves, but mostly my hallway neighbors. I’ll miss Post too. The bustle of the busy street. The parking!
Lauren Onorato: I was one of the fortunate ones who did not have to move. I had a teacher “roommate” and she has gone back to her classroom- I miss her dearly already!

Like MHS students, teachers spent last year thinking about the aspects of “normal” school they missed most. This school year, the MHS community will appreciate the little things as we move closer to pre-COVID-19 high school life. Teachers have shown enthusiasm about using the drop schedule again, something we took advantage of in the past. The drop schedule allots more instructional time per class, allowing for teachers to use their creativity in lesson planning. Global history teacher Francesco Scioscia and chemistry teacher Sandra Misic shared their sources of excitement about this year.

Q: What shifts towards a normal school year are you most excited about?
Francesco Scioscia: I’m excited to have students up and about in the classroom. I personally get antsy if I sit for too long, so I try to incorporate movement into each class period. I’m also looking forward to the longer class periods, which provide more time for activities and allow for richer closing discussions.
Sandra Misic: I love extended class times and the rotation schedule. This helps me work with students one on one in class and form stronger bonds. The rotation schedule ensures that students have enough time for hands-on activities.

Despite the widespread excitement about a closer-to-typical year, making adjustments from last year’s learning style will inevitably pose some challenges. Although hybrid learning was often mentally draining, the shift towards “regular” school will not be painless. Students and teachers grew accustomed to the norms of COVID-19 learning.

Q: What do you see as potential challenges at Mamaroneck High School in a year without Zoom?
Francesco Scioscia: I think it will take some time to adjust, and Zoom was obviously a necessary tool last year, but school feels more like school when everyone is in person. Early on, I think it could be challenging for teachers to plan lessons for 55 minutes after planning 40 minute hybrid lessons the past year. I think it could be challenging for students to actively participate in all their classes, but hopefully, everyone will be excited to be together in person and participation will just come naturally.
Juliana Zalon: There may be some people with health conditions that require them to stay home and without Zoom, they won’t be able to access their courses in the same way.

It is no secret that almost every student and teacher prefers “normal, in-person” school to hybrid learning, but teachers did find pockets of efficiency and innovation in online platforms. Rather than putting hybrid learning entirely in the past, MHS teachers will use the insight they gained last year to provide the best experience for their students.

Q: Will you continue to use any technology that you started using due to COVID-19?
Lauren Onorato: Not Zoom! I am trying to make my classroom more earth-friendly, so digitizing everything was better on that front.
Sandra Misic: I will still use google classroom and test wizard, but that is what I did pre-COVID. I have discovered EdPuzzle and its usefulness during the pandemic and will continue to implement it in my lessons.

Pre-COVID-19 school offered more opportunities to come together as a school and simply have fun. Mamaroneck High School missed out on that once the pandemic hit.

Q: What back-to-school traditions do you enjoy most at MHS?
Juliana Zalon: Homecoming and Pep Rally. I imagine that this year we will also have some focus on community building and outreach. Our town is in the middle of a tragedy, and I expect to see our students and faculty coming together to help those in need. We will need to lean on each other in more ways than one this year.
Lauren Onorato: It’s not really a tradition, but meeting with all of my coworkers prior to the start of school. There is always a mingling of excitement and nervousness with all the teachers, no matter how long they have been teaching–the brink of a new school year brings us all together!

The MHS community has been incredibly resilient and willing to adapt during the pandemic. This school year will be a change from last year, but a welcome one.