Teaching In Person During a Pandemic

In Spring 2021, some of us are teaching our FWS in-person or hybrid during a pandemic. While it can be wonderful being in the classroom again, teaching and learning in a socially-distanced and masked environment is a pretty new endeavor for some of us. 

Here are some tips from Malcolm Bare, who has taught his FWS in-person for two semesters, and Kelly King-O’Brien, who just started teaching her two classes in-person.


  1. Students with cloth masks tend to be harder to hear, particularly if they’re sitting in the back of the room. Depending on the spacing of the room and the HVAC system, you may find you need to walk through the aisles to hear a comment. We’d gauge student comfort for this. Better yet, if a more soft-spoken student sits next to a louder one, see if the louder one can help out. You can also have some extra surgical masks on hand to offer them. (Ask your department to order you some.)
  2. Most classrooms are lecture style. This means a lot of hand raising and facilitating discussion since students can’t see each other. Malcolm had to find his inner Bob Barker but once he did, it was smooth sailing. It helps to have discussion posts or an eye towards all the faces in the room so that you can quickly put students in dialogue with each other. Also, if possible, you might be able to arrange the chairs (if they are movable) so students can maintain social distance but face each other. Ask if they prefer that.
  3. This may seem silly but students do notice other students drinking from water bottles or moving between lecture rows to use the bathroom. Having a policy for this helps.
  4. Not a concern in winter maybe, but PPE is sweaty! Malcolm prefers masks to visors and even found a few acrylic ones on Etsy that rest on the chin and help with projecting.
  5. Students may forget to wear PPE. Always good to have a second or third mask handy.
  6. Get the email and phone number of the building manager (and IT person) of your building in case you get locked out of your classroom. That has happened to both of us!


  1. It’s possible your FWS will be the largest number of people you’ve shared a room with since last March. No one is used to being in crowds this big so expect some strange behaviors and etiquette. In his fall experience, Malcolm found that students were significantly less reserved than usual. Leaning into this creates a very fun class environment.
  2. But it’s very important to establish personal boundaries. Some students tended to look for closer emotional bonds and e may feel more willing to oblige given the pressures of the pandemic. This can spiral out of control quickly, especially if you’re sensitive to students being alone and away from loved ones. During the fall semester, Malcolm was lucky to receive timely guidance from HR and English’s DGST. Reach out as soon as possible if a situation seems beyond your training or experience.
  3. There’s a constant fear that your class can become a Covid cluster. This would sometimes pop up for Malcolm in the middle of class, but he found that the feeling mellows as the semester goes on.
  4. Be transparent with your students about your feelings and expectations about being together in the classroom this semester. All of you have an opportunity to be together in a relatively safe way—socially distanced, wearing masks, tested regularly, and in a well-ventilated room. When students feel like they are a critical part of making the class enjoyable and productive, they become more invested in your class.
  5. Do everything possible to make the classes fun and low-stakes. It does the students a world of good just to have an informal discussion in a group of sixteen people. Malcolm’s fall class didn’t suffer with reduced reading loads and looser discussions. On the contrary, the final papers were conversational and unique.

Malcolm Bare

Kelly King-O'Brien


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