We’re currently in week 4 of Digital Learning. At this time, my head is swirling with different ideas, questions, and concerns. I have half a dozen or so half-written blog posts about the beginning of this year, and I find that I’m unable to finalize any of my thoughts. There are just so many things going on. I find that old ideas spark new ones, and there are so many nuances and things to explore with Digital Learning that I go down a new rabbit hole every single day. It’s been hard for me to focus and be specific.
If it were up to me, we would stay with Digital Learning for the entire school year, or at least until the Spring. Instead, we are transitioning to Plan B in four weeks’ time. Plan B is a modified in-person learning schedule. Class sizes will be reduced, and students will rotate between in-person learning and remote learning off campus every three weeks. For instance if they are in the first group, they will go into school for one week of learning. The following two weeks they would continue their studies at home, like we’re doing now, until their in-person rotation starts again. I’m grateful that class sizes will remain small, allegedly fewer than 12 students at a time. However this is not the arrangement I would prefer, and I think there’s an avalanche of issues coming our way. Unfortunately for me, one of those issues is potential exposure to and contraction of the coronavirus.
I was a germaphobe before the coronavirus turned our lives upside down in March 2020. When I was younger this looked like inspecting my drinks, and refusing to drink anything with “floaties” in it. I was petrified of sharing drinks and backwash. I only became more vigilant in college when I swabbed public areas like door handles and cultured them in my Microbiology lab. As a teacher, I wash my hands constantly (yay science teachers have sinks in their rooms!), I try not to touch my face, and I try to get enough sleep. Despite my best efforts, it is impossible to deny the pathogens that we transmit between us and that linger on shared surfaces while in school. I get several bad colds each year, and maybe one serious one. It is fascinating, disgusting, and terrifying all at the same time to observe the latest “bug” going around in the classroom. Students will come to school dripping with mucous, or coughing every two minutes, toughing it out as long as they can. Some have sports obligations that require attendance. Others have high expectations and feel stress when they miss school. With temperature screenings and questionnaires upon entry, and everyone on high alert, I know these behaviors will shift. But will the changes we are implementing be enough to protect me from the virus? I’m afraid not.
It breaks my heart to see students, especially at the elementary school age, upset, crying, or frustrated with their online learning. It is understandable too that parents are upset and frustrated. I don’t appreciate, however, that parents cannot understand our hesitation and fears about returning to in-person learning. I love teaching, and I love my students, but I am not willing to sacrifice my life. I already sacrifice way more time and energy than my contract requires. This is what it means to be a teacher. Teachers are some of the most educated and qualified professionals, and yet we are compensated the least. Just today it was announced that under Plan B, teachers may be required to quarantine after exposure to an infected person. There are funds available to cover our first 10 school days of quarantine. However if we’re exposed a second time, and are forced again to quarantine for a total of 14 days, then the sub coverage must come from our own pocket. At around $50 a day for a substitute, which is far lower than the $150 cost in other states and schools where I’ve worked, that totals around $500. This is just another example of why some teachers, like myself, are resistant to return to our underprepared schools.
In this 4th week of Digital Learning, I am trying to give structure to my class, go slow, plan well, and help my colleagues. For the first time in my teaching career, we have a curriculum. The curriculum is pretty bad, and it’s not a perfect solution, but at least it’s routine, and somewhat autonomous for when students are doing their two weeks of remote learning under Plan B. I don’t know how Plan B will transpire. How do I plan for 1 week of synchronous in-person learning and 2 weeks of asynchronous remote learning simultaneously? Will we have exposures and positive cases of the virus, like our neighboring district who started with in-person learning this year? Things are shifting weekly, daily, and sometimes by the hour. I wish I could trust in my school leadership, and feel protected against the virus. But I don’t.
If you are a parent or guardian, administrator, or student, I understand how challenging this time is. Please understand that school is not normal right now. Life is not normal right now. I hope that we can come together to improve what we’re doing. But for that, school leadership needs to ask for our input and suggestions. We certainly know the students and the job best, and we deserve to be a part of the discussions. If you’re a teacher out there, and worried about what it means to return to in-person learning, I understand you. Your feelings are valid and you have every right to feel the way you do.