Article

August 26th, 2021

Educator Voice: Reflections as I approach my 20th year of teaching

CoronavirusEducationEducator VoiceSocial StudiesU.S.
Schools across the U.S. have worked to adapt to the pandemic, as teachers and students increasingly worry about showing up to school with the looming threat of the coronavirus. REUTERS/Emily Elconin

 

By Sari Beth Rosenberg, U.S. history teacher, New York City

When I became a teacher nearly 20 years ago, I did not think we would be doing active shooter drills because someone’s right to have a military-grade weapon trumped the safety of everyone else. After Sandy Hook, I was convinced there’d finally be common sense gun control. 

I also never thought that as I began my 20th year teaching, I’d be sitting here resigned to the fact that I most likely will get exposed to Covid or spread it to others. When the vaccine rollout happened, I had hope that the 2021-2022 school year would be different for kids.

When the vaccine rollout happened, I had hope that the 2021-2022 school year would be different for kids.

As a history teacher, I never thought that it would even be up for debate that we should teach the truth about the American story, that structural racism and other “divisive concepts” would be banned from lessons. Now it’s going to be illegal for teachers in states with anti-Critical Race Theory (CRT) laws to teach the truth.

As of now, 27 states have introduced measures— 8 states have enacted them into law — that ban or make it difficult for school curricula to examine racism in American history through adoption of critical race theory or other resources, like the 1619 Project, according to the Local Support Solutions Center. Teachers in those states are being forced to potentially choose between teaching the truth and possibly losing their jobs.

It breaks my heart that teachers are being asked to put their health, safety and principles on the line just to do the job they love. We don’t do it for the money, we do it for the love of education and helping enrich the lives of young people.

We don’t do it for the money, we do it for the love of education and helping enrich the lives of young people.

I have had the honor to host monthly, sometimes bi-monthly, Zooms with educators across the country as part of PBS NewsHour Extra’s Educator Voice Zoom series. We had a number of sessions throughout the year about Covid safety, including sessions with Dr. Peter Hotez, Dr. Eric Ding, and Dr. Cleavon Gilman as well as José Vilson.

We also spoke about gun safety with Fred Guttenberg as well as Dr. Joseph Sakran and Sarah Lerner. Additionally, we devoted many sessions addressing civil rights, including sessions with Dr. Yohuru Williams, as well as the CRT/anti-history laws with Frederick Joseph and Kim Haddow and Dr. Francesca Weaks from the Local Support Solutions Center.

At each one of these events, there was always a consistent theme: the dedication of teachers and school staff to do their jobs, despite the ongoing attacks on their profession. Hosting these Zooms and engaging with this inspiring community often gave me the strength to continue the difficult task of teaching on a computer screen during the pandemic.

After nearly two decades in this job, I am not sure how much longer I can keep it up if this pandemic keeps raging on.

After nearly two decades in this job, I am not sure how much longer I can keep it up if this pandemic keeps raging on. So, I get sad thinking about all the amazing people who won’t become teachers now because of what is happening in our profession. According to a survey by the RAND Corporation, nearly one in four teachers reported they may leave their job by the end of the 2020–21 school year. Prior to the pandemic, it was one in six teachers who were likely to change professions. According to the RAND survey, “mode of instruction and health were the highest-ranked stressors for teachers.”

I sent out a tweet on Sunday night to check in on everyone who is already back to school. 

There were a handful of  responses from teachers expressing their excitement for the new school year. However, the majority of the tweets have been alarming so far.

A sample:

Only about 30% of any given class is wearing masks. Our local cases have tripled.

Better because we already did this, worse because kids are getting sick now 🙁

Elementary teacher and parent of two.  I taught online and my kids were online all year last year.  I feel like I walked into a fire. No mask mandates in our district.  My daughter has received 2 exposure notices and I got 1.  I’m struggling to find joy in teaching.

Same stress levels for different reasons and concerns on how in-person may not last much longer. Students are amazing. But. Yeah.

Our parents are tired. It’s worse in #Georgia this year. The no mask, no mitigation, parent choice quarantining, no sharing information, no new ventilation, and worrying is taking its toll.

I’m one of three secretaries in the building. They both tested positive last week. This is no way to lead up to the new school year. I’m not hopeful we’re not going remote this fall at some point.

I’m struggling to find joy in teaching. — Elementary teacher and parent of two

All of these responses and the news are sobering, but it is not too late to change course. We must continue to stand up for the truth, science, education and caring about the community at large. I like to think there are more of us than the selfish and misguided ones. So, it is up to us to keep up the fight.

When I walk into my classroom to begin my 20th year, it will look a lot different than my first day two decades ago. We will all be wearing masks and possibly those protective face shields. Every kid will have a Chromebook, so I won’t be distributing any paper copies anymore. Because of Covid fears, I probably won’t be doing any of the activities where kids walk around the room interacting much with one another. However, even after all these years and these recent setbacks, I still possess my love for teaching history and mentoring young people. 

None of the various challenges from the pandemic can take my passion away from me. However, if we continue on this course, I can’t say it will make it more and more challenging to sustain it. 

 

Read Sari Beth Rosenberg’s “Teaching in the Age of Coronavirus” blog series here. If you would like to contribute to Educator Voice, please send your idea to Victoria Pasquantonio at vpasquantonio@newshour.org.


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 19 years. Find her on Twitter & Instagram @saribethrose, her teacher Instagram @sariteacheshistory and at saribeth.com.

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