Some thoughts on the first day back with students

We publish here some thoughts from a MORE member which we think reflect how many educators around the city are feeling…

By Lori Sandler

International HS for Health Sciences

Students line up to have their temperature checked before entering PS 179 elementary school Sept. 29 in the Kensington neighborhood of Brooklyn borough.  [MARK LENNIHAN | AP

It’s 12pm and I’m already exhausted. Teaching to five kids at a time is nice in some ways, but there’s not a lot of momentum for conversation and we have to yell to be heard through the masks. It’s a lesson I could do “live” on Zoom too because at this point I’m not making any more lesson plans than absolutely necessary.
I gave my first in-person lesson since March this morning and it was exhilarating. I feel like myself again and some students looked at me with big wide eyes and I could tell that they were happy to be back. There is a reason schools exist, and there’s a reason why I’m a teacher.
It still felt different, though. All of us were checking our phones every chance we get. This pandemic has turned us into device addicts, and remote/hybrid school won’t help.

I can’t figure out what to do in Advisory. We want it to be a place where kids can connect. The lesson we have prepared is a Jamboard, which works virtually but doesn’t take advantage of the actual face-to-face human connection we could have today. I took my Advisory outside to our closed street, and most of us took off our masks and snacked and drank water. Twice we had to get up to let cars by, but it still felt safe. Thank goodness the weather is gorgeous. Maybe tomorrow I’ll bring in some sidewalk chalk.
The more I get to know my students the more worried I am about them. One kid can’t stop touching his mask. I gave him one that I hope will fit better. Many students have jobs and I’m worried about the safety protocols there. The subway, the bus, the store – everyone is out and about now and what if masks aren’t enough to protect us? The pandemic isn’t over.
I’m worried that we’re just waiting until it gets bad again. I’m worried about the 150 school staff citywide who are already sick. Are they symptomatic? Are they on ventilators? Not yet?? I don’t like waiting until “enough” people get sick for schools to close. Why are some people expendable?
Last night I talked with my husband about how some people we know seem to be doing great. They’re going whale watching, embarking on new careers, barbequing with friends, sleeping well. I was wondering what we’re doing differently – my husband and I are both cautious by nature, maybe we’re just mutually reinforcing each other and overreacting to create a cycle of fear. We thought about what changes we could make now that this crisis is long-term, more like a lifestyle. Then I said, “I haven’t decided yet if I should wear my face-shield tomorrow. What do you think?” And then we realized why we can’t relax. I am knowingly interacting with several dozen students from at-risk populations in poorly ventilated indoor spaces. I recommended they get tested before coming in to the building, but it’s not required (and apparently won’t be because the UFT now agrees that testing is optional?). I am at risk. I have to remain vigilant.
Still, I am so happy to be here today. I’m happy to be out of my apartment. I’m happy to see kids’ faces. It feels like I’m a teacher again.
But beneath it all is this lurking fear that it won’t last, and that it shouldn’t last. I think I missed the window to visit my parents again – I wouldn’t risk their health now by seeing them in person. Why did I spend last weekend prepping instead of visiting them? So much guilt.
And while teaching remotely isn’t the same, it can be good. Opening our building as a “rec center” could take a lot of pressure off teachers. Doing the same live lesson for three groups of five kids is exhausting and a little pointless. A remote lesson done live or asynchronously, with in-person support available for kids who need it, makes sense. There’s so much work and preparation and care and time that has gone into getting everyone here today, and while I love it, I also think I don’t want it. We’re doing astronomical amounts of work and expending so much emotional energy – and I haven’t even started grading yet. I’m not sure how productive any of us can be here.
I don’t have answers. I’m glad I get to see my students, and also I don’t think I should see them. What a day. The first of many? It feels like June already in terms of burnout. I tried to take time off this summer but spent so many hours planning curriculum and working on the school leadership team. Maybe June won’t even be June this year if school goes year-round. How are we making this sustainable? Why are we doing this again? Just getting kids into a building isn’t the point. Is it?

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