Dental assisting educators typically look forward to back-to-school season — but this year brings continued challenges to both teachers and students alike amid COVID-19 concerns.

Earlier in the spring, many dental assisting educational programs adapted quickly to distance learning to be able to adhere to recommendations from government and health officials.

Schools continue to monitor circumstances surrounding the virus to inform their approach, with the majority of schools updating their websites to reflect plans and protocols. Below, educators discuss what the back-to-school season looks like for them this year.

Online Only

Some dental assisting educational programs are not offering in-person learning, with only virtual instruction available. “Distance education is going well,” one educator reported in the spring. “We have been informed by our administration that we may have to use this approach again in the fall.”

To supplement their virtual curriculum, many dental assisting educators have turned to the DALE Foundation’s online courses during the pandemic. “I thought this would be a great time to incorporate these products into my [virtual classes],” high school dental health careers instructor Tracie B., CDA, commented earlier in the year.

With the school year upon us, one dental assisting educational program in Texas reports it is hosting a textbook distribution drive-through parade “so that students can pick up their materials without exposing themselves to COVID-19.”

Back to the Classroom

Other dental assisting students and teachers have returned to in-person study, with protocols in place to ensure everyone’s safety — such as required health questionnaires and temperature screenings, social distancing, facial coverings, and frequent cleaning and sanitizing, plus reduced class sizes.

Dental assisting instructor and program coordinator Hillary R., CDA, COA, CPFDA, CDPMA, and her students have returned to in-person lecture, lab and clinical courses. “We started the second-to-last week of August and are wearing more personal protective equipment (PPE),” she says.

“I am excited to be back in the classroom,” Hillary continues. “However, I find myself teaching to the test during this time of crisis. Truthfully, wearing the PPE is extremely hot, and it’s hard to get. Faculty and students alike have apprehension and anxiety, but overall, the students have been compliant and are so glad they are not online in our remote area where internet access can be spotty.”

A Hybrid Approach

Some dental assisting programs are offering a hybrid combination of online and in-person learning with the proper safety protocols in place. In some cases, students have the flexibility to choose which type of course — in-person, online or a mix — they prefer and feel most comfortable with.

One educator who wishes to remain anonymous admits that teaching in the “new normal” has been an ongoing challenge since March. “It is a bit stressful,” says this educator, who was preparing to transition from remote to hybrid learning. “Some teachers out there probably have already mastered this, but we are still trying to figure it out at our school.”

Dental assisting educators, what does your back-to-school season look like?
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