What is it like inside the schools for many teachers at this time?
There is nothing normal about being employed in education at this time. We wonder if we are delivering equitable, safe instruction in the classroom, and also wonder if that is the point on some days when there is precious little time for planning or instruction. We spend a good deal of time on safety protocols, attendance, technology troubleshooting and other non-educational tasks like logging changes of schedules and coverages on Google documents so exposures can later be tracked. We want to be teaching in buildings with our students, but we want to know that the risks are properly weighed and that mitigation strategies are working. As the infection and the test positivity rates increase, more people are out, and more people are sick, but we are told this is the safest place. “Safe” has no firm definition, and our vulnerabilities range widely.
For many, on many days, the classroom doesn’t feel like the safest place. Health information is protected, and we don’t ever get the full picture of an exposure. A lack of information about positive cases causes our imaginations and worst fears to run wild. We need better, more consistent communication from district to district. There are few clear standards for remote or in-person instruction, and none about when a school should close or re-open, or what constitutes safe staffing. The one standard we had was that when infections reach above 25 per 100,000, schools would reduce density. Now we are at 50 here in Norwalk, red zone, and elementary is full in-person instruction. We wonder if district and state leaders understand that the system which has been so painstakingly designed and tirelessly implemented has gaps. It is not a scientific instrument humming along. It breaks down in small ways that risk our health, and the health of our family members.
School safety feels compromised when so many are out, and when so many students are hard to locate. There is an all-hands-on-deck approach and it brings people away from our normally assigned responsibilities for situations that arise. This means that some jobs are not getting done. Paras or teachers on their planning periods are covering classes, and students are reporting to locations where they would normally not be, which move us all out of our cohorts, out of our practiced routines. Covering classes and new schedules increases the complexity of contact tracing, and creates inconsistent learning from a variety of teachers despite enormous efforts. Many co-teachers are subbing so they are not free to directly attend to children with special education needs.
Every workplace is stressful during this pandemic. There is stress in not being able to predict what each day might bring, how to reduce risk, how to manage family needs and how to get the work done. In schools specifically, there is much stress in being in the only place where crowds are tolerated, where large groups still gather maskless to eat, and where no remote opportunities exist for those with health conditions or who must also care for quarantined or remotely-schooled children. There is stress while we are still learning to get to know our new administrators, new technology, routines, and creating lessons, especially while teaching concurrently to remote and in-school students. Add in the stress of who’s quarantined now, who is next to be quarantined, planning to be quarantined or “going remote” every time you leave the building, whose homeroom am I covering, who’s waiting for test results, etc. This is hard and taking a heavy toll.