Teachers back to campus

As the spring flowers emerge, so did Dana Hall students and teachers. A number of teachers who were teaching remotely for much of the year have returned to campus after getting vaccinated. “By the end of next week, all but three full time Upper School classroom teachers will be back on campus and teaching in person,” according to Head of Upper School Ms. Jessica Keimowitz’s Upper School Update.  

Ms. Heather Panahi from the History Department has a family member who is immunocompromised and took precaution in ensuring that she wouldn’t possibly contract the virus and spread it, so she had initially been teaching remotely. She loves teaching, but safety, especially regarding her family, matters as well. Ms. Panahi returned to campus in January, after contracting the virus herself, since her antibodies guarantee a lower risk of contracting the virus again. She as well received the vaccine during her return on campus. 

Science teacher Mr. Gary Fadden had been teaching remotely so far the entirety of the year. He and his wife had been medically instructed by their doctor not to come in contact with anyone. However, as of two weeks ago, he is vaccinated and officially back on campus. 

World Languages teacher Ms. Jacqui Bloomberg also recently came back to campus. She got her vaccination over March break and expressed that it was an “exciting and easy” process once she got an appointment. She feels privileged to have gotten vaccinated and was glad to finally be able to come back to Dana.  

Ms. Bloomberg initially had some challenges with speakers and technology when she adjusted to in-person teaching. Now, she is navigating her way and becoming more comfortable with teaching in the classrooms again. 

Ms. Panahi expressed that teaching from home can be nice at times as well, although it’s not her preferred style of teaching. She had the opportunity to spend more time with family at home, which is not as possible when teaching in person. Ms. Panahi had the opportunity to experience this pandemic while teaching both on and off campus. “I actually prefer to be in the classroom, nothing compares to that.” She loves energy the students add to the classroom.

Mr. Fadden adamantly prefers teaching in person for a variety of reasons as well. Something he struggles with in particular is the remote grading process. “I would not have taught for 45 years if this was what teaching is about,” he explained. From his perspective, he feels that teaching online is less impactful for the students. “Teaching is like surgery, you need to be in person for surgery, just as you need to be in class with students,” he said. 

Although the transition was difficult for Mr. Fadden when he was teaching remote, he eventually adapted to the new learning style and rewired his house to have more electricity in his basement, where he was teaching. He also bought lights and whiteboards for his classes, so students could clearly be able to see his writing. “Students are attentive,” he said, and further expressed that he’s glad to be going through these tough times at Dana, of all places.  However, he is glad to now be back on campus.

Ms. Bloomberg expressed she prefers in-person teaching rather than remote because she feels as if she is far from the students when she’s online. Not just physically, but it’s almost as if she’s teaching a “black hole.” Not all students would have their cameras on, and as a teacher, it was difficult to see whether students fully comprehended the lesson. She faced several technological difficulties over Zoom, but explained that in some ways, she was able to learn lessons, despite the complexity. She said, “When you have to do something you don’t know how to do, you’ll be forced to find a solution and learn how.”

During these difficult times, teachers adjusted their teaching styles and curriculum, according to the pandemic and where they were teaching from. 

Ms. Panahi has been changing her curriculum since March 2020, when everyone went remote. She changed the way she tests, using more time in breakout rooms trying to recreate the natural conversations amongst students, and teaching less content. However, teaching less content didn’t necessarily mean there was less to learn, according to her. Rather, she needed to be more mindful of what she taught and ensure that every moment in class is meaningful. She was forced to recognize how she could become a better teacher in the ‘new normal’ and identify what she does well, in order to make her teaching as effective as possible. 

Ms. Panahi’s return to campus didn’t result in her returning to her same curriculum, but instead consisted of making decisions based on what her students needed. 

In Mr. Fadden’s class, the change in curriculum required him to take out some of the hands-on lab work, as it violated COVID safety precautions, but the majority of the material remained the same. “Students have actually done quite well and grades are higher than they normally are,” he explained. He also found that the girls are focused, and classes tend to move quicker because less questions are asked virtually. 

From a teacher’s perspective, Ms. Panahi thinks that between the effectiveness of in-person and remote learning, it’s not one or the other. The goal is to have students engaged and to be a committed teacher. She strongly believes that if you’re a good teacher, you can create a vibrant environment, whether you’re in the classroom or not. 

The vaccine rollout in Massachusetts was separated in several phases, according to the average risk of each group of individuals. Teachers were part of Phase Three and were able to obtain the vaccine in April, according to However, some teachers were eligible to receive the vaccine in March as part of Phase Two. Vaccines are available by booking appointments online, but the government has recently changed the website. Unfortunately, according to Dr. Keely, the website has been crashing and there is difficulty in booking appointments. 

All in all, teachers at Dana Hall continue to support students through these unprecedented times, whether they are in the classroom or not. Dana Hall plans to have everyone back on campus in the following fall and continue many traditions celebrated pre-covid, in the hopes of, accelerating the sense of normalcy and ease back on campus. One vaccine at a time. 

Photo: Ms. Heather Panahi, back on campus and masked up.

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