Learning from home was always going to be different in 2021.
During the first lockdowns of 2020, teachers had to rapidly choose from dozens of online learning platforms, many of which had never been used before at such scale, and students had to find a way to turn a corner of their home or bedroom into something approximating a classroom.
Compounding this was the rapid nature of the lockdowns; teachers were finding out from media reports that tomorrow they would be seeing their students over Zoom rather than in the classroom.
The lessons of 2020
Having had the experience of at least one lockdown, and in some cases many months of lockdown, this year, schools were as ready as they could be.
This time around, Google Classroom didn't mean typing words into a search engine and instead referred to an all-encompassing forum, messaging platform and pedagogical tool. But, said NSW Secondary Principals Council president Craig Petersen, there were some barriers no cleverly named edu-tech program could overcome.
"At [Denison College in Bathurst], we discovered that for some students, we needed to send home physical packages of work because there was no internet access at home," Petersen said.
For those with internet access, learning online meant becoming intimately familiar with the best internet signal at home.
"To give you an example, my internet is via a wireless modem accessing the 4G network, and we've certainly got examples of students and teachers working in paddocks because that's where they get the best reception," Petersen said.
The only way schools could continue at all was through the dedication of teachers.
"What a lot of people don't realise is the incredible amount of work required of teachers to deliver learning from home,' Petersen said. "It's much harder than teaching face-to-face."
The return to school
At Denison College, Petersen has oversight of 2000 students, nearly 200 teachers, and upwards of 75 non-teaching staff, all spread over two campuses.
Already exhausted from the demands of online teaching, by the end of Term 3, principals and teachers in all states affected by lockdowns were planning for the staggered return to school. In NSW, the changes to the timetable have created some extra headaches.
"Teachers then had to reprogram because they can't teach the same content as they would face-to-face," Petersen said.
Complicating the return is the requirement that teachers be vaccinated in NSW and Victoria. While teachers in NSW need to have both shots to return to the classroom, in Victoria, teachers must have their first dose by October 18 or a booking for within a week and their second by November 26.
The mandate has placed a strain on schools in regional and rural areas where vaccine access has been limited, and schools already struggle with a shortage of staff.
Petersen and principals around the country are urging parents to keep an eye out for communication from their school and to get in touch if they have any concerns around their child's transition back to school.