Grisel Vidal came to the United States from Cuba in sixth grade. Now she teaches sixth graders who are new to the country. She's gotten used to teaching online, but she's seen her students learn better in person. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

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Grisel Vidal teaches English language development to middle school students at the Kingfield campus of Hiawatha College Prep, a Minneapolis charter school. Most of her students are Latino, including many newcomers to the country. Testing delays thwarted the planned return to school on January 6. Classes resumed, remotely, on January 10.

Students in person definitely tend to be more themselves. The feisty ones and the ones that talk very loud and the ones that interrupt me all the time. There’s definitely more of a sense of community in the classroom, which is sometimes hard to transfer into the virtual classroom. Especially because I do have a lot of quiet students that still are developing that skill of advocating for themselves. It’s definitely easier to help silent strugglers in the classroom, because you’re there.

The environment does have a big impact. Talking to peers, being exposed to English all around them, and being exposed to bilingual peers, who can speak Spanish but also English. When my students started virtually, it was so hard to get them to speak. And then they came back in person for seven weeks at the end of the year, and it was just so much easier to do speaking practice, because they were hearing the language all around.

I’m so proud of them, that they came in on Monday and they were ready to jump into Zoom. They came in on time. It just shows that they’ve been exposed to online learning before. But the class definitely loses its spontaneous moments. 

For example, [in person] I was teaching them the word care. And somehow we started talking about Care Bears, and I got to see everyone’s reaction, making the connection of like, Yeah, I watched it growing up! I didn’t know that word meant that! So those are the things that I lose on Zoom. 

​​Something challenging is technology issues. Oh my gosh. I had a student who was coming in and out because her internet was just not reliable. In science, we have this brilliant, bright student who wants to share his ideas and talk all the time. And he makes a really, really good point. But his internet makes his voice laggy. 

It’s like, Oh my gosh, I want to hear what you have to say. But we can’t understand what you’re saying. And that particular student has a lot of trouble typing and spelling. So it’s not like we can ask him to just type in what you’re saying. 

“I woke up on Monday and I thought it was 2020. I do think it was a good decision to do virtual learning, because of the Omicron cases rising and being very dangerous to students and staff. But it definitely feels like a step back.”

english language development teacher grisel vidal

I woke up on Monday and I thought it was 2020. I don’t want last year to happen again. There was so much that my students could have developed that they didn’t. I do think it was a good decision to go remote again, because of the Omicron cases rising and being very dangerous to students and staff. But it definitely feels like a step back. 

Becky Z. Dernbach is the education reporter for Sahan Journal. Becky graduated from Carleton College in 2008, just in time for the economy to crash. She worked many jobs before going into journalism, including...