ArticleJune 11th, 2021
What educators & school staff tried to tell you about teaching during the pandemicCoronavirusEducationEducator Voice
Monise L. Seward, Ed. (left), Dr. Theresa Chapple (center) and host Sari Beth Rosenberg (right) share their thoughts on what teachers and school staff’s had to say about working in a school during the coronavirus pandemic.
by Sari Beth Rosenberg, high school history teacher, New York City
As we wrap up a school year that will hopefully never be repeated, there is still room to reflect for K-12 educators across the country. School was in the daily headlines all year. However, if you speak to most teachers and school staff members, they may tell you that their experiences were rarely accurately depicted by news outlets.
Throughout the school year, I had the honor of hosting PBS NewsHour EXTRA’s monthly COVID check-ins as a part of the Educator Voice Zoom series. In these candid sessions with incredible guests including Dr. Peter Hotez, Dr. Cleavon Gilman, and Dr. Theresa Chapple, educators opened up about what teaching during the pandemic was really like for them.
Here are the major takeaways gathered from these powerful sessions as well as various online conversations conducted throughout this past school year:
Teaching and learning never stopped this year
Some buildings might have closed, but school still continued. The ongoing stories in the news about “learning loss” led to everyone overlooking the herculean efforts of teachers and school staff alike. Instead, the nonstop talk about what was “lost” simply reinforced the narrative that teachers were getting paid to “do nothing” all year. In fact, most teachers’ work loads doubled, if not tripled, throughout the school year.
California, New York and Chicago are not representative of all of America
Most of the media outlets are located in major cities where school went remote for a while. This led to storyline after storyline that most school buildings were shut down in the United States. However, throughout the rest of the country, the majority of districts have been at least partially in-person the whole school year. In other words, most teachers in the United States were in the classroom teaching different cohorts all school year. Many also felt pushed into unsafe working conditions, especially where safety measures like masks for students were not in place or mandatory.
Where were the teacher and school staff interviews?
Many educators on the EXTRA Zoom calls and in follow-up conversations felt as though it would have helped to do more “day in the life” profiles of teachers. By providing more detailed insight into the real experiences of teachers and staff, the general public may have been less prone to demonize teachers and teacher unions. By not focusing on all that teachers accomplished in one day (often teaching in-person and remotely simultaneously), it was further enforced that schools are primary child care facilities and not educational institutions.
By providing more detailed insight into the real experiences of teachers and staff, the general public may have been less prone to demonize teachers and teacher unions.
Monise L. Seward, a sixth grade special education teacher from Texas, expressed it well when she said, “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.”
There were successes to be celebrated
What are the long-term systemic issues that occur when teachers and staff feel as though the media fundamentally failed to cover the times when we met the moment?
Teachers were experimental and resilient doing everything they could to provide high quality learning opportunities during a pandemic. It would behoove education reporters to explore the successes and ways they can be translated into more traditional learning models next year.
Testing was a major blow to already suffering students
There were a lot of conversations about the immense trauma experienced by young people during the pandemic. The media rightfully considered the socio-emotional impact on students. However, where was the coverage of teachers who felt that it was a devastating decision for students’ mental health to go ahead with testing? On a personal note, I noticed that testing was the primary source of my students’ anxiety this school year. In fact, they seemed more stressed about tests than about learning from home or about the global pandemic in general.
Where was the coverage of teachers who felt that it was a devastating decision for students’ mental health to go ahead with testing?
As we close our Google Classrooms and actual classrooms for the summer, it is crucial that we continue these conversations. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the many fault lines in our society. It also revealed to us what and who we took for granted in our lives, including school buildings and educators. As we open up America again, let’s start valuing our teachers and school staff members more than we did before the pandemic…by listening to them.
Sari Beth Rosenberg has been teaching U.S. History at the High School for Environmental Studies, a public high school in NYC, for nearly 19 years. Find her on Twitter & Instagram @saribethrose, her teacher Instagram @sariteacheshistory and at saribeth.com.
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