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Behind the Vac-Scene: Johann Somerville is hopeful for a return to a social learning environment

Experiences with the COVID-19 vaccine

March 26, 2021

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Johann Somerville

Johann Somerville (left) is pictured with his two close friends and colleagues, Brandon Croker (middle) and Jeff Vangene (right).

It’s 3:05 p.m. on a Wednesday. The Dougherty Valley High School (DVHS) campus has been deserted for almost a year, but slowly, teachers are returning to campus to gather necessary teaching materials and prepare for hybrid learning. One teacher scurries across campus, with energy like no other. 

Sporting his beige shoulder bag and DVHS Model U.N. crewneck, a beaming Johann Somerville scans the hallways and classrooms of his colleagues. 

The AP Research and U.S. History teacher strolls through the front office, extending warm greetings to Office Manager Cheryl Mattingly and Principal Evan Powell. 

“What a boss lady,” Somerville comments, as he drops by Assistant Principal Lauren Faulkner’s office like “old times.” 

After receiving the vaccine, Somerville can finally look forward to interactions like these with his colleagues again, and eventually students as well. As a social person who “feeds off others’ energy”, he could not be happier. What he’s most excited about? Teaching in a classroom again. 

Somerville is not one to disagree with the overall sentiment that online learning sucks. By second or third period each day, he slips into a “weird funk”, which he describes to be a combination of Zoom fatigue and a strange yet reassuring feeling that you’re conquering; surviving. 

Along with this strange state he experiences daily, Somerville is in a constant rush, racing to link assignments on Google classroom and frantically trying to add co-hosts to Zoom before class. 

DVHS AP Research and U.S. History teacher Johann Somerville is eager to see his colleagues in person again and reconnect with students.

Somerville’s teaching experience on campus was much different. 

“I would grab a snack and make a cup of coffee, hang out in [Mr. Jeff Vangene’s] room for 20 to 30 minutes, then go back to my classroom because everything was prepared from the day before; you have these inner made routines,” he said, recalling his daily schedule before class pre-COVID.

Getting that “shot in the arm”, Somerville says, has given him a sense of comfort that he can return to his old routine soon. 

But perhaps the most reassuring feeling regarding teaching that Somerville gets from the vaccine is knowing that he can connect with students again, which he believes is necessary to truly perform his job. 

“[On an] average classroom day, I’m trying to shake you out of the thoughts that you had, those preconceived notions before you come into my room. Forget that class, him, her—be here, be in the moment,” he said, whereas on Zoom, “I can’t reach through a screen and shake a kid anymore.”

Thinking back on why he became a teacher in the first place, Somerville immediately thinks of one reason: seeing the “lightbulb” moment in students’ heads.

“When I was a teacher’s aide in college, I had a pot of kids that I had to help through explaining things to [hosting] study sessions,” he explained. “One night, I saw that light bulb go off and at the end, someone said ‘thank you.’ And I was like: ‘that’s what I want to do.’ There’s such a symbolic exchange between a student and a teacher; [it’s] invigorating.” 

By getting back in the classroom, Somerville can finally regain the gratifying experience of seeing his students understand concepts in real time.  

In contrast, with virtual learning, Somerville struggles to see that “lightbulb” moment in his students, not only because he believes that retention through a screen is more difficult but also because of the “dead space” between him and his class, characterized by muted microphones and name screens in place of faces on Zoom. 

Despite such disheartening circumstances, his intrinsic passion for teaching is what drives Somerville to be optimistic.

“We do it for you guys; it’s a part of this symbiotic relationship that we have.”

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