It has been on my mind to write about this for a while. I made it through some hard times in teaching, some of the hardest being during the pandemic from March 2020 until January 2021. Actually, who am I kidding? It was the hardest to be a first year teacher. And then a second year teacher. And hard again to change schools and have two preps (that’s teacher talk for teaching two different subjects, and no I didn’t have a second prep period or make more money). In this blog post I will explain the circumstances behind my exit. It has been exactly one year since I left my teaching position in January 2021. I’m finally read to share my story.
Things were different. Things were weird.
I started at a new school in August 2020, after moving cross-country from California. The year started fine. It was the pandemic. Things were different. Things were weird. I met my new colleagues from 6 feet away, under masks. From August until October, we were full remote. Students stayed home and logged into Zooms and Google Classrooms from their school-issued iPads. Teachers came to school and worked from their empty classrooms. Meetings were on Zoom and sadly collaboration just didn’t happen. I remember a few weeks into the school year we were having our photos taken for our teacher IDs. We were called over the PA system (you know, because we couldn’t have everyone come at once and create even a medium-sized gathering), and we waited in line for our photos 6 feet apart. One by one we stepped up to the camera, and for a brief moment removed our masks to take the picture. It was the first time I saw what my fellow teachers looked like. When it was my turn, I felt many eyes on me and excited comments to the effect of, what does the new teacher look like? There was an obvious interest to see what was under my mask!
Remote Learning in the Pandemic
Teaching was different when we were full remote, obviously. I only saw my students during our Zoom classes (assuming they showed up and also turned their cameras on). I adapted all of my lessons to be digital. Some of my tried and true lessons were not conducive to online learning, so I created new lessons. I made oh-so many videos. It was a lot of work but I found a groove. Then the school board announced in September their developing plans to return to partial in-person learning, and I was utterly shocked. The pandemic was in full swing. There was no vaccine. As evidenced by frontline workers, the virus spread even when taking precautions. My teacher friends in California had no plans to return to in-person learning any time soon. In fact they did not reinstate in-person learning at all last school year. The prospect of returning to “normal” before things were deemed “safe” was really scary. And did I mention that I am a legitimate germaphobe? So, oh yea, serious anxiety too.
Students Returned to the Classroom
The students returned to hybrid in-person learning at the start of the second Quarter in October 2020. Students were grouped as AA, BB, AB, Full Remote, or Virtual Academy. Yes, I really taught that many different cohorts of students, and it was as convoluted and ridiculous as it sounds. I wrote about the specifics of these cohorts in my blog post Class Sizes and Cohorts; How She Teaches during a pandemic. Teaching like this was chaotic and clumsy. As a teacher you get used to plowing ahead and getting the job done. So that’s what I did, and as challenging as it was, I found a groove again.
We had many new procedures and safety measures in place. Even so, anywhere from 1-10 positive cases in teachers or students occurred weekly at our school. This was the trend at every school in our district. Maybe they were required to disclose these numbers, but they were tight-lipped about who was infected and if the virus was being transmitted at the school. We were able to deduce the positive cases within the teaching staff though with just a little detective work. School officials categorized the positive cases as community spread, even though we had clusters of cases at our school. I seriously doubt that all of the cases were established outside of our school, especially when at one point an entire teaching team who had recently collaborated in-person was positive and quarantined. It happened again with a circle of teacher friends who were known to socialize inside the school.
Each morning when students and teachers entered the building, we had our temperatures checked. We also answered a series of questions like: were we experiencing symptoms, had we traveled, and were we around anyone who had tested positive? Much like going to the doctor’s office. Unfortunately, the screening did not make me feel any safer because students with obvious symptoms made it through. Even five minutes after “passing” the screening, sniffly, coughing, head achy, sick, students would be sitting in my classroom. Sometimes they went home after I called the nurse, other times they came back to class if no one was available to pick them up.
I learned I was pregnant!
With everything I described going on, I was worried for my health on an hourly and daily basis. Then in October, I learned that I was pregnant! Now I wasn’t only worried for myself, but for my unborn baby. At the time, little was known about the effects of the virus on pregnant people and developing babies.
My teaching schedule was unsustainable now that I was pregnant. Except for between 9:10am and 10:45am on my prep period, I was with students. We escorted students to their next classes, and then disinfected the desks during the passing periods. We brought students to the cafeteria to pick up lunch and brought them back to eat in our classrooms. And even though my contract hours ended at 3:30pm, we had to keep students in our classrooms for a staggered dismissal until the last bus arrived at 4:15pm. There was not even one minute outside of my prep period that I wasn’t responsible for students.
I wanted to be safe and healthy for my baby. It was important for me to hydrate, but it made me nervous to remove my mask around students to drink. I did it anyway, and because of all of my teacher responsibilities I was unable to use the bathroom for hours at a time. It became unbearable and very stressful for me. I knew I couldn’t continue as things were. Ultimately, the final straw for me was that I was unable to use the bathroom when I needed to.
My Decision to Take a Break
I exhausted all of my options before I threw in the towel. I met with the principal and shared my situation. He was so understanding. I applied to switch to remote status at my school. I applied to be a Virtual Academy teacher, for which they were hiring. I even looked into short term disability. Nothing panned out. So I put in my notice around winter break and finished out my 30 day obligation.
I care so much about my students, and I wouldn’t have been able to leave unless I knew they would be taken care of. Our district already had a shortage of teachers and substitutes (when is this not the case though?). I couldn’t forgive myself if my classes were upended to ever changing substitute teachers for the rest of the year. But it worked out better than I could have even hoped for. Since I started, I knew of “Ms. Johnson,” a teacher who left the year prior due to a car accident. After healing, she wanted to come back but she was prevented from doing so. They did her dirty as I understand it. She wanted to get back into our school and she did not hesitate to take over my position. She knew the students, the school, and their unique and high needs. We worked together to make a smooth transition. We stayed in contact when I left, and I was happy to do whatever I could to support her.
What now? What next?
I delayed writing about this for so long because I’m afraid it signifies an ending. But learning, teaching, and science are deep passions of mine that I will continue to pursue. Leaving my position was absolutely the right thing to do for me and my family, but I feel incomplete without my identity as a teacher. I miss the creativity, purpose, and impact of teaching every day. I’m not ready to go back to full-time teaching, but I have thought about subbing part-time. I know my local schools, teachers, and students need that. I have time now to work on my blog and develop the resources for my site that I believe will help new and struggling teachers tremendously.
I’m one of a handful of teachers now that I’ve known personally to leave their post in the middle of the school year. If you have too, I understand what a difficult decision it was to make. Maybe like me you feel some guilt. But it’s like on the airplane, to help others you need to put your mask on first. Be kind to yourself and I hope everyone out there finds the peace and clarity you seek because you deserve it.
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