We’re almost halfway through this school year, and we wanted to check in with teachers and see how they’re really doing so far. School systems are perhaps the institution most disrupted by COVID-19, and there’s been a ton of controversy as districts try to navigate COVID school safety procedures. Whatever decisions have been made, teachers have been affected astronomically. We sat down with some of our teacher friends around the country to see how they’re handling this school year, what the ups and downs have been, and what they anticipate moving forward.
*As most of our teachers requested to remain anonymous, we will not be including names or other specific identifiers in this article.*
I teach grades 9-12. My district is currently doing distance learning but they are focused on getting students back in school and moving to hybrid soon.
I work very long hours in a typical school year. In past years I’d be at school until 7 or 8pm, but this year I’ve put more emphasis on having a better work-life balance and have been leaving work at the end of the school day.
Teaching during COVID has been very very difficult because many students in the online platforms don’t have their cameras on, and it’s very discouraging when they don’t do the work assigned to them. The pros are that my county is doing school online currently for the safety of the students and staff; however, they plan to go back to an in-person model soon and cases are currently rising. It causes me a lot of anxiety because I don’t know when I will be back in school, if I will get the proper PPE, or what will happen to those I live with who have health conditions and are considered high-risk. I feel like a babysitter being asked to watch people’s children because they don’t want them in the house anymore. Teaching online isn’t ideal, but it is the safest option. Unfortunately, getting the students back into school seems to be more important than the health of students and staff. I wish more of an effort was being made to make online learning a good option rather than trying so hard to get back in school.
“I don’t know when I will be back in school, if I will get the proper PPE, or what will happen to those I live with who have health conditions and are considered high-risk.”
I am fortunate to have a job and a roof over my head. I have been taking time to reflect on what I need in life and focus on myself for once instead of just my job. I only have one life to live, and I don’t want my job to be the only thing I am passionate about. Overall, COVID has helped this teacher step back and remember the important things in life: making connections, enjoying what you do in life, and taking time for yourself.
I teach 1st grade. This past summer our superintendent made the call that we would start school completely virtual. This was a big deal because our entire district is a Title 1 district: roughly 30-40% of our students don’t have WiFi and some don’t have electricity, so this presented a major problem.
We were able to supply all of our K-2 students with a Microsoft tablet (without a stylus or keyboard. This detail is important because several educational applications that are required of the district don’t work for my students without a keyboard/mouse and stylus) and our grade 3-5 students received the same tablet but with the keyboard attachment. The district was also able to provide hot spots for families without internet.
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Recently, our district decided to tentatively open when we return from winter break. Teachers and students were given the option to teach/learn from home or school. The instruction will still be 100% virtual even if teachers/students are in the classroom. Basically, this means that if a teacher and some of their students decide to come back to school, the teacher is babysitting the students in the classroom while giving instruction via a virtual platform to both the students at home and the students in the classroom. If a teacher decides to stay home, then the district has said another teacher, teacher’s assistant, or substitute will be in that teacher’s classroom with their students throughout the day. More than half of the teachers in the district have chosen to teach from home because of this.
“If a teacher and some of their students decide to come back to school, the teacher is babysitting the students in the classroom while giving instruction via a virtual platform…”
My mental health is pretty terrible this year. It’s always been difficult because there are certain challenges and stressors that come from teaching in an under-resourced school, but this year it’s been the worst it’s ever been. The demands on teachers from the district, administration, and even parents weigh on you. Expectations of what teaching during COVID looks like are constantly changing and we’re expected to constantly do 180s, with a smile on our faces, and keep going about our day. A huge part of teaching is connecting with your students (especially 6-year-olds!) and that is almost impossible this year. Not being connected with my fellow teachers is also incredibly lonely and isolating.
It’s hard when you can’t “leave” work. My laptops are always on my desk in my living room. Parents have more access to me now than they ever did before. I’m also teaching my students directly into their homes, so families are able to scrutinize my teaching in a way they’ve never done before. Teaching 6 year olds for 8 hours a day on a laptop is also not developmentally appropriate for them in any way, shape, or form. We take lots of breaks, do movement, etc. but it’s still a long time for kids to be on the screen. Teachers also have more work this year than ever before. We’re literally making history and creating an entirely new way to teach simultaneously.
All in all, it’s just hard. No one is enjoying this way of teaching, but we’re pushing through and doing it because that’s what needs to be done. It’s hard when your kids don’t log in and when you hear community members saying things like, “If teachers don’t want to go back to school, then we just shouldn’t pay them,” and then to read about teachers who are back in school dying of COVID-19. It’s just all around hard, but I still love my students and hope that I can meet them in person as COVID school safety measures are successfully implemented!
Since last March we have been totally online for school. This year, the way we have things organized is that each class either meets for 30 minutes every day, with 25 minutes of independent work time for the students, or they meet 3 times a week, and the other two days are independent work days for the students. This is in an attempt to not have the students on Zoom continuously from 8-3:30. The students also have an hour lunch break during which we encourage them to go outside or at least turn off their computers.
I am lucky enough to go into school to teach during COVID, even though we are remote. A number of the other teachers teach from the school as well, and getting to be around them and still feel like part of a community is huge! One of the teachers and I have started a weekly outdoor happy hour for the female faculty. We all bundle up and sit under her porch and this has been a great source of friendship!
“A number of the other teachers teach from the school as well, and getting to be around them and still feel like part of a community is huge.”
One of the pros of the way we are doing school now is that I feel like I have more time. All of my classes are shorter so I am not teaching as much, and therefore I am able to get a lot more done during the day. I also have been able to keep track of my students’ work much better than before, since it’s all in one place on Google Classrooms and I can get immediate feedback through giving quizzes with Google Forms. If I need to work with a student, I can ask them to stay during their independent work time and give them one-on-one attention as well which is great!
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One of the cons with the way we’re teaching during COVID is that although I have more time because I am teaching less, because I am teaching less it is harder to get through the material. Oftentimes I feel like I need to sacrifice making class engaging or hands-on for the sake of getting through the material, but I am working on changing that mindset because I don’t think that it is serving the students very well. Another general con is that it is challenging to give immediate feedback on students’ written work, which is often what you need to do in math.
I would say that overall, given the situation, I am very happy with how school is going and the COVID school safety measures we’ve taken. Learning is happening on a daily basis, even if it looks a little different, and what is best for the students is really on people’s minds. We want to keep pushing them to do their best in school while giving leeway for the challenges of the current situation.
Fairfax County, VA
I teach 11th and 12th Grade AP US History and AP Human Geography. In Fairfax County, students are currently doing virtual learning through Blackboard Collaborate. There are transition plans for students to come in through “cohorts” based on student age and needs. The current county plans put K-12 students back in the classroom by the end of January, but with COVID school safety policies, students have the option to stay virtual all year or go in-person. Students will be learning through a “Concurrent Model” — the teacher is in the room with no more than 12 students and has to teach both online and in-person students at the same time. Yes, think about that headache. Oh, and the students in the building cannot be in the online platform with the students at home.
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Thinking back to the spring when we first left the building, there are so many things we didn’t do that set the stage for what is happening right now. When we left the building in March there was about a 3-week gap where there was nothing being done to implement new COVID school safety procedures, and this lack of routine has been a real problem getting this school year started. I am seeing so many students struggle because they don’t even know what school looks like anymore. But my expectations are still very high and these are students I really do not know. Adding to a lot of this, I am seeing that many students do not have good routines and are very disorganized when it comes to school and now online testing is just making that so much worse.
“I am seeing so many students struggle because they don’t even know what school looks like anymore.”
The most important thing I wish I could change is having the students turn on microphones and cameras. I find it very difficult to teach into a void and trying to follow a running chat room is incredibly difficult. I could not tell you what 75% of my students look like or sound like, and I would say 50% of them never even type in the chat. As a teacher, it is very difficult to understand what students know and do not know when I don’t have any feedback and can’t “read the room.”
It’s funny, I hear a lot of people talking about how difficult distance learning is for students but I’m not sure that people really have a handle on how hard it is for those of us teaching during COVID. I’ve spent the last 15 years in a classroom building relationships and working alongside students, and now I spend my days staring at a computer screen and monitoring a chat room. I don’t even see how this “concurrent model” my district is proposing is even possible. I feel like sometimes in education we’re always looking for the next best thing instead of improving on what is there. Can we improve virtual education and not just constantly flip the script for the sake of a few months? No one thought this is where we would be 7 months ago and who knows where this all goes, but at least give me the time and resources to make it great before you change it again. We can’t always be trying to build the plane while flying it.
Experiences of teaching during COVID and school districts’ responses have varied widely, and the above is just a sampling of what some teachers are dealing with this year. We really want to encourage you to listen to teachers right now — many of them are wanting to share their experiences with us. Resources like the above testimonies and the following video are invaluable to our understanding of what teachers are going through in this time.
So, how are teachers doing? Things have definitely been better, but these heroes are trying their hardest to make it work. What are some ways you’ve been showing teachers a little extra appreciation this year? Share with us in the comments!
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