Returning to Ramaz: An Interview with Teachers After a Year on Zoom


Although most students and teachers returned to school in-person in September 2020, some teachers opted to stay on Zoom until Pesach. These five teachers, Ms. Sole, Dr. Jucovy, Ms. Litwack, Ms. Barak, and Rabbi Stern, have all been teaching at Ramaz for many years. The Rampage interviewed these teachers to learn about their experience teach on Zoom to an in-person classroom and their adjustment back to school in-person after a year online.

Tell us about your overall experience coming back to school after teaching on zoom for the year.

Ms. Sole: It was very exciting! I felt like I was received fondly by my students and colleagues. Dwight gave me a very warm welcome at the door. The last time I was in school was last March so it was very exciting to come back to school after a year. I’ve been a teacher for twenty years so not being in school for a year was definitely significant. The atmosphere is different at school because everyone is wearing masks but we are all used to that atmosphere at this point. One adjustment was learning how to teach students in the classroom while teaching students who are on zoom. I have a lot of appreciation for the students because they persevered through this difficult time and cooperated. 

Dr. Jucovy: Now we’ve got this new five day a week schedule, no more rotations so things are going to be less confusing. To actually have a Monday through Friday without having to tell your friends who go to other schools or relatives well I can’t do this because it’s a C-day. Now every time it’s no, I can’t do this because it’s a Tuesday. It was really great to be back and nice to meet up and now it’s, you know, five or six times over the past, I guess it’s been three weeks or something, something like that, but it feels like normal now. And hopefully it’ll get even more normal.

Ms. Litwack: Nothing looked the same. I haven’t even been in my classroom since I’ve been back, and it just sort of seemed like a tremendous amount of work almost as if you had to open 15 different doors to actually get into the room. And then other zooming kids were like we can’t hear you, we can’t hear you. But then when I turn around, like, try to talk to the zooming kids, the other freshmen kids would just be like doing whatever freshmen do the minute you take your eye off them.

Ms. Barak: I had a countdown to when I was going to enter the building and see Dwight, who is the best person in the building. And just see, just meet my students, it was one of, and I don’t want to sound really I’m not exaggerating, because it was one of my happiest days in life. It was really like the feeling of going back home, finally. I thought to myself that the in person teaching before Covid  we took for granted. How important is the interaction, the live interaction between the teachers and the students. Nothing is really like standing in class or meeting your students in the hallway, or seeing them in different moods. And so a lot of appreciation for the life that we had before Covid.

Rabbi Stern: I was very happy to be back in the building, and see my students and colleagues. I thrive off of the vibrancy of the classroom and I love walking around the classroom to see my students’ work. Additionally, I think that it was remarkable that Ramaz managed to continue classes and this year would have been disastrous if classes had not continued virtually. I thank all of the students for doing their best to work with us this year. 

When you entered the building for the first time, did anything about the students or building shock or surprise you?

Ms. Sole: I felt at home very quickly when I reentered the building. Reentering the building was a similar feeling to returning to Israel; I have lived in the United States for the majority of my life but when I visit Israel I immediately feel at home and there is no transition period. Additionally, one of the first things I noticed at school was that many students looked a lot taller than they were last year.

Dr. Jucovy: I thought I would feel like, wow, I’m back in the building after 15 months. It’s so amazing that all this time passed and now I’m back, but it was like I’ve been there all the time in some ways. Now we get to the unexpected– the building was half empty, because only half the school is there at any given time, everybody’s wearing masks. nothing is where it’s supposed to be. The library is being used as a class, the Beit Midrash has a classroom, the gym has two classrooms. There was the Plexiglas all over the place, so it was weird, but nice.

Ms. Litwack: I had 40 students I’d never seen in person. So they’re just like floating heads. And, all of a sudden I would see kids and one kid was like two feet two, while one of my freshmen girls I remember she’s like 5’8” or something. I was just like, oh my god, you are so tall. At home, when you just zoom, you see everyone without their mask, so it’s crazy, You’d think I’d recognize them, but then they all had their masks on. I thought I would know everyone.

Ms. Barak: I look at the lounge and the lounge is empty, or like two freshmen in the lounge where seniors usually spend time together and I think to myself, Hey, don’t you know this is not your place, this is really the seniors place. Really, my heart rate goes up for the seniors because juniors, also yes, for all of you, but you will next year. You will get back to normal and it will be another kind of insightful experience in your life that you will be able to share with us and your children. But seniors, senior year, not to be able to socialize. That’s tough. That’s really tough and there’s nothing equating it to. It felt a little bit surreal. 

Rabbi Stern: I had already seen the physical makeup of the building before I officially came back to school to teach. Over the course of the year, I have been in the building to pick up and return finals. 

Did you have a different type of relationship with your students this year?

Ms. Sole: It was difficult to get to know students who I had not taught before. At the beginning of the year, it was especially difficult to teach freshmen because they were new to the school and I was not in school to guide them. After a while, my relationship with students felt normal and I did not feel that I was at a disadvantage in that sense. The main challenge that I faced was teaching students on zoom while they were in school because the wifi in the school was unreliable. 

Dr. Jucovy: An odd thing is that there were some students that room I’ve only taught through zoom up until that point. And on zoom, you only see this little picture. That’s if they’ve put on their video the whole time. And they’re wearing masks if they’re in the building so half the classes, you’re teaching them, there’s a little picture of somebody in a mask, the other times they’re their faces. And it’s different to meet somebody who you only know from a tiny little moving image. For the first time, there they are, there and in the building, they’ve got their masks on. I used to pride myself on getting to know every single student really really quickly within a week. I had one student who I thought was one person but it was actually another person. That would not happen to me normally in April.

Ms. Litwack: It was definitely different. There were no spontaneous meetings. Everything seems so formal like sometimes I’d be concerned about a student. And if I were in the building I would just grab them after class or my office is near the gym and I’d see them going into the gym or something and I wouldn’t have to make a big deal out of it. It’s like it’s intimidating especially to younger kids, but even to juniors I think to say like, I need to meet with you. It has to be so formal, and sometimes even if I just need to talk to somebody for five minutes, it has to be a setup meeting. There’s no randomly in the lunchroom going over to a student table and making jokes with students. I think it’s intimidating, especially for the freshmen that have never met me.

Ms. Barak: I felt very close to my students, even my 

seniors, many of which I never had before. And I’m staying close to those seniors, and I will keep being close to them even when they graduate. And I felt it when I came to class in person, as a matter of fact. There were students that took a semester course with me and then my two mini courses and I used to make fun of them that they have so much Barak, it’s too much. And so these students I taught six months on Zoom, and then two weeks in person. And the relationship was so close.

Rabbi Stern: My relationship with students was different because I could not see the work they were doing during class and I could not see their reactions to class. The relationship with all my students was different and with some students, my relationship was very removed and distant. My relationship with some students felt distant because some students were uncomfortable participating on zoom, and I could not merely go over and talk to them. It was difficult to monitor those students and gauge if they understood the material. Since I have been back in the classroom, I have been walking around the desks to see what my students are doing. I have noticed that the students who were uncomfortable speaking on zoom, are great participators in the classroom. 

What about your relationship with other teachers? Was there a difference there?

Ms. Litwack: The first time I came in the building was actually before my first day of teaching, and I basically found that my ability to make small talk had completely disintegrated. I found that it was very hard for me to hang out. I ran into Mr. Klotz and he was like oh it’s so great to see you and everything and we talked for a few minutes and then I started to feel like I need to get out of the building. I just felt like, have I forgotten how to just say unimportant things to people and listen to their own important things? And, and it was weird also because I’ve known Mr. Klotz for like 30 years so it’s just like, and it had nothing to do with, you know who the person was it just was, I just felt like I just been home alone for so you know for so long, except for the few periods when my daughter was home from law school. I missed the collegiality, I missed all the conversations. 

Rabbi Stern: Teachers have lost a lot of social interactions without lunch and other gatherings. Many teachers, including myself, only come to school to teach their live class and then go home to zoom their virtual classes so teachers are not really around to socialize in school. Even when I speak to other teachers via zoom, it is not the same personal relationship. 

Ms. Barak: I never take my lunch in the lunchroom, so I’m not part of this gang, sharing I don’t know what. I don’t have the patience to sit in the lunchroom– I usually take two leaves of lettuce and one clump of tuna, and take it upstairs and work. Not that I’m not social; I am social, but I am not part of this clique of teachers. The relationship happening between teachers is happening either in the lunchroom or in the offices. In our office, we are very very very connected: Ms. Brachot, Ms. Dashiff is my best buddy, and Rabbi Blaustein and Mr. Klotz and Dr. Rotenber and Ms. Fung. We are very very very much connected. It’s happened many times during Covid that they ask me when I’m coming back and with my Hebrew and all this news and the updates and the gossip from Israel. So that was a really nice reunion with my office mates.

Did your teaching method differ this year on zoom?

Rabbi Stern: My teaching method was very different this year on zoom than other years. In the classroom, I love teaching in a classroom with lots of whiteboards and sending students to the board. There is no comparison to sending students to the board because you can see if they are having trouble and help them correct their mistakes. 

Ms. Litwack: With my seniors, it was kind of mixed, but definitely with my freshmen. There is a group I don’t feel that they’re performing at the same level as traditionally freshmen would do. And I think it’s because it’s difficult for them, it was difficult for them to maintain focus on Zoom, and because they’d never actually met me so I was this sort of screen presence. Believe it or not I want all my students to get A’s, so it’s like, When kids that I thought were understanding things suddenly write about something and I’m like, how could they not have understood that. There’s so there are just many fewer ways for me to check what’s going on when they’re on Zoom. They can be watching Netflix during class for all I know. I feel like sometimes I’m putting a lot more energy, because there’s no electricity on screen, so I feel like I’m putting a lot more energy into the lesson and getting fewer returns.

Ms. Barak: Absolutely. In my Israeli film class, we had a lot of technical issues of how to watch the Israeli movies online and I didn’t want to waste time on Zoom to watch it, so we needed to come up with different technical methods of how to do it, both the students and myself. I find myself excelling in PowerPoint presentations which I wasn’t as good at. I think that it’s really forced me to, to be more familiar with the new technology. I think that I will definitely integrate it next year when I teach in person. This was one positive aspect [of virtual learning].