TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — There are traditional sights and sounds sorely missing on campuses for much of the pandemic.
'That's why we became teachers -- to be with our students," said Anthony Mendoza, a 4th Grade teacher at Liberty Elementary.
In the classroom, peering over students shoulders to see their work in progress is critical to teaching.
Mendoza said, "I saw someone, she was mixing up prepositions and pronouns. I said, 'Is that a preposition or pronoun?' She could stop and talk to me a little bit and fix it. And I could see it right then and there.
"There were some kids who would turn their cameras off. We didn't know what they were doing. So now I can see. I can walk by. I can look," said Mendoza.
With that element missing, learning gaps became inevitable.
"We know we have a lot of catching up to do," said Mendoza.
The transition to remote, to hybrid, back to remote and now 5-day a week traditional learning has contributed to the gaps.
"It affects every aspect and procedure that we do," said Principal Stephanie Ponce.
She's given teachers, like Gina Gonzales, as much leeway as possible to create the best learning environment while still following safety protocols.
It's not quite normal. Her classroom now has desks instead of the 4-person tables she prefers.
"It's hard because we like to collaborate," said Gonzales, "Them being so far apart from each other. Having to talk from a distance with masks on is really challenging."
But these kids, she said, would rather deal with this than learn from home.
"They lost a lot," said Gonzales, "Even just playing with their friends. It's been over a year. They see them on the screen when we did virtual, but it's different."
Even different seeing their teacher for the first time, in person, who some thought was taller.
"That was the comment. Everything was like, Miss, I thought you were taller and I was like oh, let's keep that going," said Gonzales.
Keeping things going at a quicker pace is achievable now.
Mendoza is preparing his students for the upcoming AZMerit tests.
He explained why it's important to have them on campus 5 days a week.
"We can go over something, but after a couple of days of not seeing them, we'd have to take the time to refresh them," said Mendoza,"With this we can go to a new concept. You got it, you don't got it. Let's go back. Let's review it."
And parents, they said, are reacting to their kids returning to the classroom.
Gonzales said, "Even the parents would message me, I've seen a change already."
Imagine that at the end of a school year students and staff are thrilled to be back in the classroom together.
Mendoza said, "It's good to have some normalcy back."