Article

April 7th, 2021

Teaching in the pandemic: What four educators wish politicians and journalists would discuss

CoronavirusEducation
A dark and empty classroom at P.S. 59 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York, U.S., September 2, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/pool

 

Editor’s note: At the one year mark of COVID restrictions and school closings, we put out a call to educators to reflect on the challenges and lessons learned from the past year. We started with the question: What do you wish people knew about teaching in the past year? What do you think journalists, politicians and others may not understand?

Many educators wished to remain anonymous to share their thoughts. This is the second post of collected voices in the series. For the first, click here.

 

Monise L. Seward, special education and 6th grade math and science, Atlanta, GA

A summer off did not prepare me.

The debate about teachers being overpaid, underworked, lazy and undeserving of summers “‘off”’ resurfaced during the onset of the pandemic. Teachers instinctively attempted to dispel those myths using facts. Some broke down their pay into an hourly rate and multiplied that figure by the number of children they teach to demonstrate that we are, indeed, underpaid. Others enumerated the unpaid hours spent creating lesson plans, assembling teaching resources to supplement outdated curricula, buying supplies, laminating and cutting manipulatives. The list goes on and on. 

Detractors do not (want to) see the number of hours we spend on the above-mentioned tasks, while also investing in our professional development during summer vacation, for the sake of our vocation.

Our unpaid summer vacation.

Detractors do not (want to) see the number of hours we spend on the above-mentioned tasks, while also investing in our professional development during summer vacation, for the sake of our vocation.

We are not obligated to labor for free. We worked hard this past summer, but it was not enough time to contend with pre-pandemic teaching expectations, subpar technology, last-minute operational plans, lackluster training and little support from districts. 

We are not lazy, overpaid, underworked or undeserving of enjoying the summer. We are tired, under-appreciated and poorly supported by those elected to fund, legislate, oversee and cover our education system. They failed us all.

 

Kelly Coleman, special education teacher, Plainfield, NJ

The one thing that I wish the news media would share more of are stories of teachers that had to step away because of stress or anxiety, and the lack of accommodation made for these teachers.

I would like to share a bit about my story. I have been teaching self-contained special education for the past three years. I have been teaching in both public and private sectors since 2010. When the pandemic hit I was working remotely with my students who had significant needs. I was actually one of the first teachers in my district to do everything live because I knew my students needed that, and to be honest, they were meeting their goals, their parents were happy and we were doing okay.

My husband and I live and take care of our dad who is very at risk, and I wasn’t putting my health or his health on the line.

I also taught during the summer virtually and that went really well as well. As the school year approached this past September, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to teach in person for a while. My husband and I live and take care of our dad who is very at risk, and I wasn’t putting my health or his health on the line.

I advocated for myself starting in July. I spoke and cried in front of 200 people virtually during a forum that the superintendent hosted for teachers to speak up. Through August and September I was dealing with panic attacks and anxiety about what I should do. As the school year crept up even closer I spoke to HR and they told me I had one of two choices: I could take an unpaid leave or resign. I asked them why I couldn’t remain virtual for a while. They allowed me to remain virtual the first two weeks, and I even taught with another teacher who was teaching in the classroom while I planned everything and taught from home.

I’m just sad that I had to leave a job that I loved because they wouldn’t accommodate my needs.

On Oct. 5, I was forced to take a leave of absence, and on Nov. 15, I was told I had to give 60 days notice if I wanted to resign. I knew that things were not going to be significantly better by January, so I decided to resign. My decision was a blessing in disguise. Our dad got really sick in February, and I was able to be there for my husband. I’m just sad that I had to leave a job that I loved because they wouldn’t accommodate my needs. I’m currently looking for some virtual work and once a week I teach an ESL course virtually which I love. The sky’s the limit.

 

Joe, parent of a teenager, teacher of 20 years

Few of the lawmakers rushing to open classrooms have hosted or attended an open town hall with BIPOC community members. Those who rush to open schools cite their motivation as helping BIPOC students, who are indeed often facing learning gaps caused by institutional racism.

It is the BIPOC caregivers of students who are the most injured by COVID and most at risk of rushing to open classrooms.

 

Stuart Stein, social studies teacher, Bellmore, NY

“Success” is the missing piece of the story of the classroom in the world of COVID. We hear all about the challenges and missed opportunities, but the shining lights of success of the past year are blacked out by the darkness of the larger narrative. In every crisis there is opportunity. On March 15, 2020, the day after my district announced its initial shutdown, my students gathered (on their own) to continue producing our two weekly broadcasts FROM HOME!

I am no longer a traditional classroom teacher — after 20 years teaching social studies, I transitioned to help launch the Bellmore Merrick Broadcasting program at Mepham H.S. in Bellmore, N.Y. We teach digital storytelling, and our students produce weekly broadcasts and cover events for the school community.

Tell the stories of the people who stepped in and stepped up and who stood up to the challenge.

With a year of no school, and then remote school and then hybrid learning, the kids I teach HAVE NOT STOPPED. Together we found a way to produce the shows remotely, to create virtual events (Game Night  & St. Baldricks) to broadcast and to tell the stories of success that we found in our community.

But no one told their story.

These kids and kids like mine have created their own success time and time again under the most difficult of circumstances, but those success stories fall on deaf ears as we pay more attention to the naysayers. Tell the stories of the people who stepped in and stepped up and who stood up to the challenge.

 

More educator voices on the past year:

Educator Voice: The difference between physical education and physical activity during remote learning

Educator Voice: A call to acknowledge the work teachers have put in this year


If you would like to contribute to NewsHour EXTRA’s Educator Voice blog, please send your idea to Vic Pasquantonio at vpasquantonio@newshour.org.

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