July 14th, 2020

Educator Voice: How do teachers really feel about returning to the classroom?

CoronavirusEducationHealthOnline LearningU.S.
Sari Beth Rosenberg, high school history teacher, New York. Credit: Sari Beth Rosenberg


By Sari Beth Rosenberg

President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos recently threatened to cut federal funding if schools don’t fully reopen five-day-a-week in-person learning. 

Even though only 10 percent of school funding is actually derived from the federal government, my teacher community was abuzz in response to this news. Teachers miss the classroom, but everyone I talked with expressed the same sentiment: “I’m terrified to go back.” 

So, I decided to take to Twitter to poll educators beyond my immediate circle. Although it was an informal poll that ran for only 24 hours on my account, the results are still pretty alarming: the majority of teachers do not feel safe returning to the classroom. This is different than saying that teachers do not want to return to the classroom. They agree that remote learning will never replace in-person learning, and they miss their students. I wrote about this extensively in my 13-part series,“Teaching in the Age of Coronavirus.” 

At the end of June, the American Federation of Teachers surveyed its members and 76 percent said they’d be comfortable being in school with the proper safeguards.

But since then, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), wrote that teachers had been sharing their growing concerns about reopening with her. 

In response to the results of my informal Twitter poll, many teachers reached out to me to share how they felt. Note that most wanted to stay anonymous, fearing retaliation in their school districts. 

I am going to share some of the responses, but first I want to invite all of you to attend a  PBS Newshour Extra webinar on Wednesday, July 15 at 3 pm ET to continue this important discussion with other educators across the nation.

We will definitely have many more responses after the webinar, but here’s a sampling of what teachers are saying about school reopening:

“Terrified. I am terrified.”

“The decisions of how classrooms will look should be made by teachers, not board members or politicians.”

“1. I am very excited to return to teaching this year after a long hiatus through Master’s and Doctoral programs. 2. I would rather teach in person than online. 3. I think teaching online is the smarter decision for parents and districts. 4. I don’t feel ‘unsafe’ but I’m nervous.”

“How will teachers be expected to manage both in-person and virtual sections of multiple preps? That’s like double the teaching load.”

“The fact that the CDC is considering revising their guidelines because they are “too strict” or “too expensive” is absolutely absurd. Yes, they *are* strict and expensive — which means we need MORE FUNDING, not loosened restrictions.”

“I’d go back if I were needed.”

“Schools are germ factories normally.”

“Teachers are used to sacrificing our time (60 hour weeks), our money (buying our own supplies), our energy & love for  kids who need so much and now we are asked to potentially sacrifice ourselves & families. I won’t do it.”

“My school doesn’t even have a nurse. My low-income students already provide our cleaning supplies as it is. Is my adult life not meaningful?”

“The thing that I feel like screaming from the rooftops is that NO ONE seems to be addressing the issue that classrooms are indoors, most with no access to fresh air, and the virus appears to spread through shared indoor air. All the sanitizer in the world won’t make that safe.”

“I am a teacher. I have more trepidation at the prospect of 100% virtual learning. The only reason it was not a complete disaster in the Spring is because of the relationships I built with my students. I won’t have that in the fall. It was also very difficult to balance with home.”

“Feels like they know there are no good answers unless the city gets a lot of money, and there is no indication that the government is willing to spend a dime to make it work. Making f2f work would take money, making remote work would also take money.”

“Numbers are higher in some states/counties than they were in Feb?? How can you justify it being safe now if it wasn’t then?”

The news about COVID-19 and school reopening seems to be changing every hour. 

That is why we are so excited to continue this conversation at Wednesday’s webinar and for you to share your ideas with NewsHour EXTRA’s Educator Voice blog. Here are the details. All opinions are welcome. Please make your voice heard. 


Sari Beth Rosenberg is an award-winning U.S. History teacher and writer. Her most recent media appearances include The Skimm’s Back To School series and Travel Channel’s “Mysteries at the Museum.” Last year, she wrote the #SheDidThat series for A&E Television Networks/Lifetime. Sari helped write the new Global and U.S. History curriculum for the New York City Department of Education with a small team of educators. She also recently contributed to a forthcoming edition of the Hidden Voices curriculum. In March 2019 she was awarded the Paul Gagnon Prize by the National Council for History Education.  Sari has been teaching U.S. History at the High School for Environmental Studies, a public high school in NYC, for nearly 18 years. Find her on Twitter & Instagram @saribethrose, her teacher Instagram @sariteacheshistory and at

If you would like to contribute to Educator Voice, please send your idea to Victoria Pasquantonio at For teaching resources on Election 2020, sign up here.

Read more of Sari Beth Rosenberg’s “Teaching in the Age of Coronavirus” blog series here.

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