‘It’s going to be overwhelming’: 7 teachers on the start of a school year like no other

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I found this article extremely interesting because it captures the varying viewpoints and opinions of major stakeholders in the problem. With so many dimensions and so much at risk, from a child’s intellectual and social development to the mental and physical health of themselves and their families, it is extremely hard to determine which is the right path forward. The article also shed a light on the stressful and anxiety-provoking position of the teacher. If attempting to plan for online schooling for the first time isn’t stressful enough, these teachers are going into it with an unprecedented amount of unknowns while attempting to engage and motivate children who are in a stressful and fragile emotional state as well. However, it was refreshing to see that some teachers are finding advantages to online learning that wouldn’t be possible if they were still in school.

Dishman, Lydia, and Diana Shi. “‘It’s Going to be Overwhelming’: 7 Teachers on the Start of a School Year like No Other.” Fast Company, 2 Sept 2020, https://www.fastcompany.com/90538849/its-going-to-be-overwhelming-7-teachers-on-the-start-of-a-school-year-like-no-other.

“There’s no question: School looks different this year. Some students will attend in-person classes. Others will participate in a hybrid model, mixing online and in-person classes. Still others will stay entirely virtual, logging into classes from their bedrooms or kitchen tables.

“With this, comes a lot of uncertainty—and not just for students. Teachers are gearing up for a challenging semester academically, adjusting lesson plans and figuring out how to translate lesson plans. Many of those returning to their classrooms have safety concerns. Some have even decided to retire early or leave their jobs. The majority (65%) of educators surveyed by EdWeek Research Center believe that schools should stay closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 even though most agree that they are better able to teach in a classroom than via video.

“Full-time online learning has been proven to deliver lesser academic results than in-class instruction. . . Even with virtual learning, teachers have struggled to get students to show up and be engaged. A Quizlet study of proprietary data from more than 50 million active users globally revealed that when quarantines forced schools to close, U.S. students were 27% less engaged.

Fast Company talked to teachers across the country as the school year was about to get underway. They told us about their challenges, fears, and hopes for this uncertain time.

JENNY, ENGLISH AT A PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL IN MISSOURI

“We have quite a few kids who don’t have computers or don’t have internet access or the only computer they have their parents took to work with them and they couldn’t get on the computer until 5 or 6 at night.

“A lot of my students, at least that I noticed, only see their friends at school and if they’re not at school, they don’t see their friends. So I think that that’s going to be a big challenge that we’re going to have in the fall, with the kids of getting them back on just the social, emotional aspect of things and all of the learning that they missed out on in the spring.

“I am pregnant. So that puts me in a little bit of a higher alert as well. . . I’ve made an Amazon wishlist, so I’ve asked people to help me purchase extra hand sanitizer, extra masks for my classroom. Just things that help me feel a little bit safer.

“I’m also nervous about trying to figure out how to teach in a hybrid situation because I basically every day have to have two lessons: one for my kids that are in-person and one for my kids that are virtuals. So for me, that’s also another added thing on top of it. Not only am I trying to stay safe, but I’m also trying to have my kids actually learn stuff and it’s going to be hard to do that.

“Yes, I worry about myself, but I also worry a lot more about them.

KIMBERLEY, 5TH GRADE AT A PUBLIC SCHOOL IN CALIFORNIA

“My district is allowing us to teach from the classroom without students. . . I will be able to put my hands on whatever resources that I need for whatever lessons I need to teach. I don’t have to cart everything home. So that’s a blessing. . .

“I have asthma. So my respiratory system is compromised and being in a classroom with 25 possible asymptomatic carriers is not what I signed up for. . .

“We have to really decide what is most important: People’s lives or the education of kids. . . I can honestly say for the parents that value education, even if their kids are not going to school, their kids would still learn because being a technological society, it is enough information online for kids to learn. But it’s tied to the parents and their expectations.

OWEN, PHOTOGRAPHY AND FILM AT A PRIVATE HIGH SCHOOL IN SOUTH CAROLINA

“I feel pretty safe. . . I was a photojournalist for so long before I did this, so I’m used to risk. . . I also realize there’s a risk no matter what. . . But I also, as a teacher, I really love what I do. . . I just have a need to get back to that classroom.

“We are also being trained pretty extensively this summer on techniques to teach online in case we go to this sort of hybrid method or full online. . .  It’s a little more fluid and a little more autonomous the way we’ve learned to teach online.

“It would be impossible for me to say, “Oh no, I don’t have any worries whatsoever,” but I’m pretty confident.

TINA, PRESCHOOL TEACHER AT A COMBINATION SCHOOL/CHILDCARE FACILITY IN NEW YORK CITY

“What I need, what the teachers need, I would say, is just time and patience, and support. The materials, what we need to be safe, making sure the classrooms are set up the way they should be, making sure we have the proper ratios, making sure there are people there in case something happens, making sure our classrooms are clean, are set up. . . . Just hands-on support. If we need help, if things aren’t going [well], just an extra hand, an extra ear, if we’re having trouble if a kid’s having a hard time adjusting. I’m sure it’s going to be overwhelming for the kids as well.

CATHY, SOCIAL WORKER/SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL INSTRUCTOR AT A PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL IN MINNESOTA

“These are kids who don’t love school anyway, and the reason they showed up before COVID-19 was their relationships with teachers and staff and food. And we did some fun things at school, too, so we made them want to come and we rewarded them for coming. We lost that ability as soon as we went distance learning. Especially when you tell them they’re going to pass anyway.

“Google Meet was easy to use, but kids don’t show up. . .

“I’m a social-emotional learning [teacher]. And [Google Meet] is better than nothing, but it’s close to nothing for my kids because that’s not what they need. We’re group kids. We sit in a circle and we have processes and we do restorative justice and we do Circle of Courage and we’re face-to-face people. It’s better than nothing. Some contact is better than none, but there are kids who didn’t respond at all. So we’re losing people. I know we need to get back into a building, and then I guess that’s the curse of it all is I know what we need to do, but I’m really afraid to do what it is we need to do.

“I’m 60 and was planning to cheerfully work for five more years. My brain is spinning in terms of, is there a way I can retire early? It’s really scary to go back.

KAMRON, HIGH SCHOOL SOCIAL STUDIES IN NORTH CAROLINA (NOW TEACHING VIRTUALLY)

“The reopening of schools is very overwhelming for everybody—for school districts, for teachers, for parents, for students. And it has put people in a tough situation all across the board. A lot my teacher friends and the students’ parents have a lot of reservations. On the other side, there are parents who are wanting schools to reopen because they don’t have care for their kids.

“I’ve just resigned from my full time teaching position the last week of July, because of concerns with COVID-19. I didn’t feel comfortable with the guidelines, and there were still so many unanswered questions. The decision was incredibly difficult. I just didn’t feel that the staff could be protected and stay safe. But I absolutely loved my school. . . We were a family.

“When I asked last week [the first week back for teachers] if the school had gotten any shipment of Clorox wipes or hand sanitizers or masks, nothing had been delivered. So, we were expected to go to this campus that we share with the general public, where there isn’t a mask requirement.

“It just wasn’t a good situation, since teachers are expected to be in that environment all day. My fiancé and I both have chronic illnesses. Another major concern, both my parents are high-risk, so I wouldn’t have been able to see my family. We were told we had to report to campus to be compensated, so I was not comfortable with that. . . Our school starts back earlier than most, but the communication has not been great. We were given a survey, along with parents and families, but other than that there’s been no communication until our first week of school. And I’m sure this is not a unique situation.

“I was able to resign because I already had part-time virtual teaching work, but as a state employee, I’ve lost all my benefits. And I’ve definitely taken a pay cut, but what’s money if you don’t have your health?

COURTNEY, PRESCHOOL TEACHER IN MICHIGAN

“One of my biggest concerns with all of it was there were just so many unanswered questions and unknowns. I’ve been nervous about it since May. Back then, I said, as a public school, we should just stop what we’re doing and think about how we can make virtual learning a success for everybody, come fall, because it can be done. I know not everyone has this belief.

“My very first worry and concern was that I was going to stop getting paid, at some point. So one, I was worried about job security and two, I was a little worried I had too much time on my hands. I like to be productive and to have something to do and I like to work.

“There was a lot we were doing for preschool. We did spirit days, to keep the kids engaged and involved, and we hosted on Zoom parent-teacher check-ins. And our center has an Instagram page, so from the start [of the pandemic], I started recording myself while reading stories.

“I’ve heard from parents and other educators who are not familiar with an online platform is, “how are these children going to make connections with the teacher?” It’s a really difficult decision for families and educators. A lot of people right now are very nervous about virtual learning, they want face-to-face. But from my experience, it can be very positive even if it’s not traditional.

“I actually really enjoyed being able to work from home and have the flexibility to spend more time with my husband, as well as having a nice balance while working from home. Also, I was able to connect with [my students’] families in a different way than in-person. . .

“COVID-19 in general has opened up everyone’s eyes. Yes, face-to-face [schooling] works for a lot of people, there are also other ways to do it. And what fits one student might not work for another.”

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