Teaching During a Pandemic, Part Three
Updated: Feb 10
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Teachers in every school district across the country have spent the last four months of the 2019-2020 school year and a little over five months of the 2020-2021 school year facing challenges unlike any they have ever known throughout their careers. With doses of compassion, flexibility, innovation, creativity, and perseverance, teachers throughout the Rutherford School District have transformed their teaching to reach their students remotely and in socially distant school settings. This is Rutherford interviewed a number of teachers at various grade levels, including specialist teachers, to learn more teaching during a pandemic. Each week a different interview question and responses were published on This is Rutherford. This article asks the third and final question.
The following teachers were interviewed: Mr. Tom Potor (Physical Education Teacher, Lincoln School), Mrs. Margaret MacFadyen-Doty (English Teacher, Union Middle School), Mr. Christopher Viola (Science Teacher, Union Middle School), Ms. Sarah Rylick (Third grade teacher, Washington School), Mrs. Theaudry Mayfield (Third grade, Lincoln School), Ms. Stephanie Smallstey (Math Teacher, Rutherford High School), Ms. Brianne Mahoney (Physical Education Teacher, Pierrepont School), Mrs. Danielle Angelson (Kindergarten Teacher, Kindergarten Center), Mrs. Bernadette Minervini (First Grade Teacher, Washington School), and Ms. Chelsea Leary (Social Studies Teacher, Rutherford High School).
TIR: What will you always remember about being a teacher during this pandemic?
Tom Potor: Having been teaching for 34 years., I have taught in many different situations. Working through the construction of new buildings to hurricanes, but nothing compares to this pandemic. The part that stands out is how resilient the students have been, and how creative my colleagues are in designing lessons in difficult situations . The students have adjusted to wearing a mask all day long and fellow teachers have met the challenge to reach the needs of the students. It has been very hard for everyone, administrators, teachers, parents, and most of all the students, but somehow, someway we have all come together to make it work here at Lincoln School.
Margaret MacFadyen-Doty: I think I will remember it as a time when my students literally got to come home with me, and I got to go home with them. We got to see each other in our "natural habitats"! Dogs barking, cats walking across the computer keyboard, siblings poking their heads into Google and Zoom meetings, doorbells and phones ringing during presentations, "carrying" my students into the yard on the nice days, parents delivering breakfast during class, all of it. While it is really tough at times, it has also been nice to share some of these things with each other. Before this, we would talk about what we do "after school". For the first time, we got to pull that curtain back and reveal a little bit more about ourselves, and I kind of like that.
Chris Viola: I recall going fully remote in March and being thankful that the Rutherford schools were well equipped to deal with the challenge. Our teachers were already well-versed in using online programs and learning platforms such as Google Classroom. While the transition wasn't seamless, it was very much facilitated by the resources, technology, and training we already had in place. Our teachers and students already had been trained in Google Workspace and were using it on a daily basis. School-issued devices were also made available to all students. Due to the level of student/teacher preparedness, I feel that our learning curve and time to adapt was likely much shorter than many other districts.
The term "Zooming with students" became part of the everyday vernacular. The help received from our technology department and our technology teachers were extremely valuable. Their advice and easy to follow instructions not only provided much-needed resources but they also provided me with confidence to use the unfamiliar technology.
I will never forget the way teachers, administrators, parents, and students stepped up and displayed an enormous amount of patience, understanding, and commitment to education. While our learning community was physically spread apart, we still managed to work closely together.
Sarah Rylick: There are many moments that I know I’ll look back on in the future as a teacher during a pandemic, but the most poignant for me will be the kids. I am still amazed by their flexibility and resiliency; how forgiving they are, especially when I don’t always feel like I’m giving my best. They show up each day, masks on and ready to learn. When I think back to this moment in time, I will always think of them.
Theaudry Mayfield: My list of memories while teaching during a pandemic:
1) The cleaning and sanitizing of the classrooms, desks, walls, and hallways by the custodial staff.
2) Getting past the fear of being exposed to this deadly unknown virus while teaching in person. (Wearing a mask and keeping a safe distance between students and colleagues.)
3) The desk in rows and columns so my students can be 6ft apart for social distancing and providing space in the coatroom.
4) The challenges of remote learning and keeping all the students engaged in learning new skills and completing assignments.
5) My class working really hard every day learning new skills successfully while wearing a mask all day in spite of this pandemic. What a great story they will tell their own children in the future!
6) Zoom Staff Meetings and the great support from our principal, Dr.Velechko. We are all in this together working, planning, and figuring things out while teaching during a pandemic.
Stephanie Smallstey: It is such a new and different experience for everyone and both students, staff, and teachers are trying to navigate each other during these unprecedented times. I couldn't be happier to have such a supportive community like this one that has joined together to help keep this town #bulldogstrong.
Brianne Mahoney: To be honest, I was nervous about returning to in-person learning. I knew that our students needed it, but I was concerned for the health of my colleagues, my students, and my own. With that being said, one thing that I will ALWAYS remember is how we all came together as a community. I am so fortunate to work with such caring, kind individuals. It would not be possible to get through a school year like this without that camaraderie. Most importantly, I will always remember these students. I remember the last day we left school, March 13, 2020, and talking with our 6th graders as they exited the Gym from the morning lineup. I told them that they will never forget this, that this is going to be a moment in our history that we remember forever. I for one will always remember the resiliency of our students. They have continued to inspire and motivate me and I hope that I have done the same for them.
Danielle Angelson: I'll remember that moment when the entire world realized that being a teacher is so much more than what everyone imagines it to be...in the best and most rewarding way possible!
Bernadette Minervini: I think the one thing that sticks out in my mind is the first time I saw students illustrating themselves with masks on. It was early on in the school year and students were writing about a fun memory with a classmate. It was a moment where I paused and recognized not only the innocence of the students but also the reality of what was happening.
Matthew Vaccaro: Just how great our teachers are in the building. There are changes every week in our district, and every teacher has stepped up their game. I always knew how talented the teachers in our facilities were, but seeing how they have constantly changed their teaching style, created exciting and engaging lessons for every student, and still kept a positive attitude shows how good Rutherford Schools genuinely are.