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September 18th, 2020

Educator Voice: New school year, unprecedented challenges

CoronavirusEducation

Even as most students and teachers have returned to class—whether in person, virtual or hybrid—some concerns still linger about the safety and efficacy of learning this fall. In this Educator Voice piece, teachers share some of those concerns. Note that the final three entries

 

Sari Beth Rosenberg, high school history, New York City 

This school year I am set up to teach using the blended learning model. What that means at my school is that I will teach my five classes (two sections of AP U.S. History and three sections of U.S. History and Government) online. I also have a weekly Advisory Class that meets on Wednesdays. However, I will be in a classroom with one other teacher and around six students. That teacher will be conducting his own online classes while the six other students will be taking their own individual remote classes. Everyone better invest in headphones!

Although my Principal and the Assistant Principals are doing everything they can to keep our school as safe as possible, I am terrified because the global pandemic is not gone at all. I am concerned about being in an older building without modern ventilation. The windows will have to stay open all year, even during the winter months. To be honest, I will only feel safe if they allow us to teach remotely for at least this semester. I also do not think it is safe for our students and their families, since most of the kids take public transportation to get to school. Also, many students live in multigenerational homes. I am concerned that if they stick with the plan to re-open classrooms (as of September 17th, the Mayor has pushed back in-person learning until October 1st), we will have another COVID-19 outbreak in New York City.

It did not have to be this way and I hate seeing what it is doing to our nation’s children and the most vulnerable of Americans. In the meantime, teachers will continue to do everything we can to make it the best school year possible for our students. That is what we ALWAYS do. However, the next time you see a teacher, remember to say thank you and maybe buy that person a coffee.

What do students think about returning to the classroom?

Michael J. Maguire, Boston Latin Academy

Generally speaking I, as a teacher and as a parent, do feel safe returning to school. However Boston’s dilapidated school buildings present a compound problem. The majority of Boston’s 120+ buildings were built before WW2. The buildings not only lack AC and HEPA filters, most have windows which barely open. The result is classrooms with poor ventilation and soaring temperatures. When you add face masks into the equation, you get a supremely uncomfortable and unsafe learning environment. Boston must drastically and rapidly update its physical plant in order to function during the COVID Era and beyond.

R. Harris, elementary special education, Washington, DC

I absolutely don’t feel safe returning to school. Not even a little bit. I’m grateful that we have started virtually, but when I hear others talking about returning to school I get so nervous. Unfortunately our schools have enough difficulties staying stocked with basic cleaning supplies as is. How will we do so much extra with COVID? We already have trouble keeping our low-quality, un-absorbent paper towels stocked. There are schools that are stretching soap by adding water to it. Now we’re supposed to do an intense deep clean of the building daily? Not feasible. Not safe. Early childhood teachers change diapers. How will they stay six feet away from children? Some nurses have two to three schools to report to. So we’ll open schools in a pandemic with no nurses? It’s absolutely ridiculous and I can’t imagine going back into the building with children. In my head I’m saying I’ll quit this job before I put my life on the line for it. Even though I can’t imagine that either, that’s how strongly I feel about it. I hope leadership is sensible and I don’t have to make that decision. I love these kids; however I’m not getting sick and putting my family at risk.

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 2: A worker wearing a protective mask walks outside a public school on September 2, 2020 in Manhattan, NY. (Photo by Kena Betancur/VIEWpress via GettyImages)

NOTE: The following entries were submitted at the end of July when plans for reopening were still being formulated. They are shared here because many concerns raised are shared by teachers across the country even as plans are finalized and schools reopen.

Neyda Borges,  high school teacher, Florida

If we are truly in this together, if we abide by our social contract and take precautions including practicing social distancing, wearing our masks, quarantining if necessary, then we can stop the spread of this disease and we can open schools safely for our children and for the adults. Perhaps some school districts have reached that level, but in South Florida, we have not. Schools house over 1,000 students. There is no realistic distancing that will prevent the spread of germs when the rate of infection is this high.

Amanda Chang, high school teacher, California

As a special education teacher, I know how important face to face learning can be for students, especially those who learn differently. I also know that I have immunocompromised students and colleagues, and I know that even though I’m in my 30s with no known health conditions, I am also still at some risk of death when (not if) I catch this virus at work. I want to teach from home for the fall semester but as of now I will be working on campus every day, putting myself, my family and my school community at risk each day that I am there. I have never been this scared to go to work.

What are the hopes, fears and realities of school opening worldwide?

Joel Schlabach, high school teacher, Indiana

To feel safe in person, I would need temperature checks upon entrance, six-feet separation for students, required masks, cohort models of learning, updated building HVAC systems and heavy sanitation between student cohorts. This would require major funding and restructuring of schools (which isn’t happening). I would prefer distance learning for the fall.

Paul Schlabach, high school teacher, Pennsylvania

Increased class sizes, poor infrastructure and HVAC systems, budget shortfalls for even basic cleaning supplies or hygienic products, lack of substitute teachers and a teacher shortage to begin with, slashed budgets for creative arts and not enough mental health staff to deal appropriately with childhood trauma … all these issues will be exacerbated by and/or will exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. It is already stressful enough having to coldly calculate which exit to sprint towards in the event of a school shooting, but now I’m being forced into a situation where I’m being thrown on the front lines for a fight we should not have to be fighting (shout out to all the essential workers out there also forced to work under threat of eviction or losing health insurance).


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

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

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