Menlo Is Slowly Returning to Normalcy, but Progress Still Needs to Be Made


Teachers and students admit that classroom environments still lack normalcy. Staff illustration: Tatum Herrin.

Annie Stent, Assistant Opinions Editor

Menlo is nearly back to normal this year, and teachers are working to connect with their students once again. Last year, teachers taught remotely, but according to senior Simone Adam, the environments were not the same. “It was definitely a bit off. Everyone seemed less engaged,” she said. 

According to junior Wyatt Cole, students being online and in-person created a more disconnected classroom environment. “I think the class was less connected because you don’t really talk to anyone [in class while on Zoom],” he said. 

 “You could tell people were looking at their phones, and when the teacher asked people to share out, it took a lot longer,” Adam said. 

In addition to students feeling off, teachers were less aware of how their students were doing in classes and in their lives. They couldn’t observe their demeanor in class or interact with them at all outside of the classroom because students were at home, behind their screens. “If [students] had no idea what was going on, it was really hard to tell,” English teacher Lena Pressesky said.

 “My mind immediately goes to conversations I would have [had] with students in passing […] that really didn’t happen last year until we were back on campus,” computer science and math teacher Zachary Blickensderfer said.

For dance teacher Angela Curotto-Pierson, the lack of connection changed the way she ran the class. “There’s an energy that you just can’t replicate when everyone is dancing in a room together,” she said.

Some teachers have noticed that after returning from online, their classroom environment has changed. “I’m having a harder time clicking with these kids than I have in 25  years,” science teacher Todd Hardie said.

Pressesky has noticed how COVID-19 restrictions continue to hinder connections this year. “Not seeing facial expressions just makes learning [from] each other harder,” she said.

According to Hardie, students don’t seem to be as open with their teachers as they have been in the past, which makes building a foundation with them more important. “I feel like it’s hard for the kids to believe that I’m here for their best interest,” he said.

“I try to find [my students] out on the quad and talk to them,” Hardie said. Like most teachers, Hardie is grateful to have casual interactions with students back on campus, which he couldn’t do during online learning. 

According to Curotto-Pierson, although it’s been slightly more difficult to build relationships with students this year, one-on-one meetings after classes, during lunches and during tutorials have been successful. “I definitely think it takes more effort outside of the classroom, [which] only helps with connections in the classroom,” she said.

 While some teachers are struggling to connect with students after distance learning, others just see it as a normal new year. “I feel that every classroom environment changes from year to year,” Blickensderfer said. He hasn’t noticed a huge difference in his classrooms from his past years teaching. “[There are…] 19 new souls in that classroom [who] have never interacted together with me.” He expects awkwardness in the beginning of the school year simply because it’s the beginning of the school year.

The teachers are putting in effort to build relationships with their students, but nothing outside of what they have done in the past. “I don’t think I’ve done anything outside of what I normally would have in the past [to build connections], it just requires a bit more effort and patience to develop relationships with my students so they know I am here to support them.”