With COVID-19 cases surging across most of the country, teachers are weighing whether it’s safe for them to return to the classroom while at the same time, trying to make sure their students don’t slip through the cracks because of the virus.
In a virtual town hall-style meeting, four educators from across the country gathered to share their thoughts, concerns and excitement about the upcoming school year. The overriding theme: parents and students will need to be flexible.
“We’re going to ask you for grace for this entire year. We want to teach your children, but when we voice concerns it’s not because we’re lazy and we don’t want to work, it’s because we want to make sure our families are safe, too,” said Rachel Sandoval, an elementary school teacher in Colorado.
Sandoval’s school was forced to close back in March because of COVID-19. She knows her students have lost out on valuable in-person learning time because of the virus, but she’s also worried that gathering students back in a classroom setting this coming fall could give the virus a perfect environment to spread in.
“We can’t do the same thing we did last year. The world has changed. Everything has changed,” she said.
Her concern was echoed by other teachers who joined the virtual town hall.
Steph MacPhail teachers 5th grade in Minnesota. As a mom, she’s struggled to juggle a full-time teaching job, while at the same time, taking care of her two young boys.
“I felt really burned out this spring from a teacher perspective and from a parent perspective,” she said.
While McaPhail misses her students, she worries that COVID-19 cases will continue to surge if kids go back to school.
“Kids and families want to go back to normal, but this is going to be anything but normal, and that’s scary,” she said.
Across the country, many school districts are choosing to start the year virtually, which brings another set of challenges. Some kids don’t have adequate internet access or access to a computer that they can use to access online classes.
“We need to make sure kids are still staying engaged while at the same time dealing with these environmental factors. For a lot of students in poverty-stricken areas, having the one interaction at school is so critically important,” said Dr. Kenyae Reese, who serves as a principal in Nashville, Tennessee.
Dr. Reese’s district is one of those starting the school year entirely online. She’s asked her teachers to be flexible. In some instances, she says she’s talked to students who might be embarrassed to turn on their camera during a Zoom call because of the home they live in. Other students in her high school are taking care of younger siblings, all while trying to keep up with classwork.
“We’re changing the landscape of a whole generation, what they know about school and how they interact with people,” Dr. Reese said.
With all the uncertainty, though, every teacher still expressed joy and excitement about whatever the upcoming school year brings, including Phillip Starostka, who teaches elementary school in Arizona.
“We are working as hard as possible and will do everything we can to make it seamless,” he said.