Uncharted Territory: Venturing Back to Our Classrooms


I want to write about what it’s been like returning to school, hoping it will be helpful for teachers who haven’t started back yet or might start today.

I’m finding it hard to describe what it’s been like, because it’s different than anything I’ve experienced as a teacher before.

Training for Virtual Learning

Our school year started with many, many training sessions to prepare us for our new normal. We spent two weeks learning new technology and new ways to teach our students virtually. Things were constantly shifting and changing to address the changing reality due to Covid-19. Our first day for students was August 20.

The Choices: All-Virtual or a Blend

In my Alabama district (Florence City) our students can choose a completely virtual option in which they will receive all instruction at a distance, or they can choose a face to face option. If they choose the face-to-face option, they will come to school two days a week and get virtual instruction one day a week.

So I see half of my students on Mondays and Wednesdays and the other half on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Friday I meet with my students virtually, via Google Meet.

The First Day Back

I have not had a case of nerves this bad since I was a first-year teacher. I was anxious about every facet of the day. What would it be like wearing a mask? (Masks are mandated in our state right now.) Would the students wear their masks? Would it be hard to make students socially distance themselves? Would the technology work?

I was even anxious about talking in front of the classroom (which I have been doing for the last thirteen years!). Then again, I’d been mostly at home since March, talking only to my family. The thought of getting up in front of a whole room full of students left me with feelings of stage fright.

At the end of the first day I literally let out a sigh of relief. After all of my stressing, everything worked out fine. I really shouldn’t have stressed so much. Students were the same as always, if a little more subdued.

They did wear their masks; they sat far apart from each other in class. The technology held up, even if it was slow. I worked through my nerves and slowly got comfortable talking to groups of teenagers again!

What I didn’t anticipate was how happy it would make me to get to see my new students and reconnect with my former students. I had forgotten how special it is to see your students face to face on the first day of school.

My Goals for the School Year

Every year before school starts back, I set my intentions for the year. Usually that means three to five goals that address different facets of teaching. This year my goals are simple; I want to be a calm, stable presence for my students and I want to avoid adding any stress to their already stressful lives.

I am going to do my best to teach them the math they need, but I am not going to add to their anxiety. I have found myself taking more time at the beginning of class and just talking to my students in friendly and supportive ways. And I am giving them more time to talk to me and their fellow students. We all need that right now!


If you haven’t started back teaching yet, be prepared – exhaustion is a real problem. I’m not sure if it’s stress, wearing masks all day, or just the increased workload, but I am more tired than I was my first year teaching.

I struggle to make it to 8 o’clock every night. I have had to let things go undone so that I can get the sleep and rest I need. Make sure to take of yourself, and if you are like me you might need more rest than usual.

Ask for Help!

We have had to learn and implement so much new technology this year. Asking questions is the only way I have survived so far. It’s embarrassing when I don’t how to do things most other people know how to do, but I have learned to ask for help. Fortunately, I have the best coworkers who are willing to help me!

But by far the best resource I have had this year are my students. They are real pros at technology, and they are very willing to help when you ask them for it. I have learned so much from them. At first, I felt insecure letting them know I didn’t know how to do something, but I’m over that now! They taught me how to upload assignments, how to share videos, and so many other things. I am so glad I just asked for help. My technology skill set is really growing!

Math Resources

It’s my first blog post of the school year, so I have to include a few math resources! I found out that TI-84 CE App for Chrome OS is free until July 15, 2021! Although I love Desmos, I also really like the TI-84 CE. I have had two of my classes download the extension and they really like it too.

The next resource is a book I found at a thrift store. It has fairly simple math puzzles to solve and my students are really enjoying them. It’s called Doodle Yourself Smart… Math Edition. The puzzles are not too easy or too hard. (I’m not sure why Doodle is in the title, there is no drawing involved.) You can find new & used copies at Amazon.

My students’ math confidence is at an all-time low. Many of them have told me that they have forgotten everything they knew about math! This puzzle book breaks the ice and lets them experience a little success. The questions don’t rely on them remembering specific content, and there are multiple ways to get to the right answer. The puzzles are short, and it just takes me a minute to put them on the smartboard between each class.

Good Luck!

Nothing about being a teacher right now is easy. Everything has an added layer of difficulty. Planning lessons takes longer, constant attention to seating charts is time consuming, and new technology has to be learned quickly. Students and teachers both are under great amounts of stress.

I would not have made it without the help of so many other teachers who willingly shared their time, expertise, and resources. So if you have suggestions or words of wisdom, be sure to share them in the comments below.

Also, if you have math resources that make distance learning easier, please share those as well. Good luck to everyone. I hope your first days of school go well!

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell (@michel1erussel1) is a math teacher at Florence (AL) High School. She began her career as a student teacher in middle school and has taught students from 7th to 12th grade. For the past 13 years, she's taught high school math, including Algebra IB, Algebraic Connections, Pre-Calculus, AP Statistics, Algebra with Finance, and Algebra 2 with Trigonometry. In her free time, she enjoys reading books about math education and following other teachers on Twitter.

2 Responses

  1. Richard Oteng says:

    Amazing. Seem like the same here in North Carolina.
    I made it a point not to stress them any more than they are.
    So far, so good. The journey of seeing my students twice a week is not fun at all. Trying to “squeeze-in” concepts in two days and at the same time, making sure no one is left behind is not fun. Most students have low motivation and overwhelmed by everything.
    But asking questions and getting help from colleagues has been good.
    I can just hope to get through each day: one day at a time!

  2. michelle russell says:

    That’s how I feel exactly! We are face to face five days a week right now, with a small percentage of students choosing fully virtual. That could change at any time. I decided at the beginning of the year I had to choose between a math teacher who cares and a caring adult who teaches math when she can. I chose the latter. I teach them as much math as I can, but my priority this year is not adding stress to the already stressful world we all live in. I really appreciate what you said about your colleagues, I don’t think I would have made this far without a few trusted coworkers who help me everyday!

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