Teaching in The Year of COVID: A Reflection
Originally published October 2020
By Sarah Claborn
When I returned to my school for the first time since we shut down last March, the silence was deafening. I teach at the largest campus in my town with roughly 3,000 students attending each year and class sizes as large as 40+ students per period. When I think about what my classes will look like on campus with the current health and safety guidelines, my blood pressure steadily rises and my chest tightens.
In-person instruction has been a common source of stress during what I have dubbed “The Year of COVID,” with instructions on how to teach the students changing by the second. I have read multiple teacher accounts and talked to my colleagues ad nauseum about how teaching on campus could ever work in the middle of a pandemic. How do we keep our students, ourselves, and our loved ones safe from this elusive virus that seems to morph itself into something that we can’t fight with any degree of certainty?
Districts across the nation have come out with apocalyptic videos of what a socially distant and mask-wearing school would look like: students not interacting with one another and the teachers unable to read expressions on their students’ faces. An educator’s prowess in “reading the room” is one of the strongest talents we have, but that is nearly impossible when students are behind barriers or in lines that are six feet apart.
On the other hand, there are also videos surfacing of schools with students crammed together in hallways, many of them mask-less, and acting as if a pandemic is not occurring. This is terrifying. Many of us have still not recovered from the abrupt stop of school back in March, when our 100 mph lives were halted by the brick wall of COVID-19, and the belief that so many of us would perish from the virus.
Teachers have long been tasked with teaching from nothing and not getting paid for the extra hours we put in, but many of us are reaching a breaking point. We are now being forced to instruct in-person wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), while also maintaining social distancing measures. Yet, there are an absurd number of districts across the nation not purchasing the proper PPE for their staff. Once again, educators are tasked with buying items for their classrooms and paying out of their own pockets.
In addition, quite a few teachers are being asked to teach both online and in person. Last time I checked, being in two places at once is physically impossible. Yet teachers are continually asked to do the impossible and make it look seamless.
Teachers understand the burden that online instruction places on parents, but at the same time, we are not asking for the consideration of virtual learning out of selfish ambition. We only want the safest option for both the students and staff. The overarching concerns that my fellow colleagues have expressed have not been about themselves getting sick, but the gripping fear that we might transmit COVID-19 to a student or their family. Being the transmitter of this virus and causing harm to the students that we love is unfathomable.
I have read truly horrendous replies to teachers who have voiced their concerns online. I hoped those comments were nothing more than trolling, but I’m growing more and more convinced that many people actually believe we want to stay home so that we “get paid to do nothing.” This, coming on the heels of the nation praising us for completely changing our methods of instruction in order to go on lockdown.
I can’t speak for all, but I know that my district has teachers who have spent, collectively, thousands of hours creating curriculum in this new wave of learning—many of them unpaid. We have learned new technology systems, completed professional developments, and been ready to go with whatever the district decides, only to completely change course at the drop of a hat. This is on top of the many other issues that must be thought about before meeting our students on campus.
Our brains are tired and we are scared of what this year of teaching looks like. All we’d like is some compassion and understanding that this isn’t about us, we just want what is best for everyone.
Teachers will do whatever is required of them, regardless of the changing rules that we must follow in order to continue practicing the profession we love. I know that my colleagues and I will persevere, as we always do. Despite all the twists and turns, we will continue to make sacrifices for the love of our students and education. Not as martyrs, but as a community of professionals who realize we cannot afford to fail our most vulnerable population, our nation’s children, even at the expense of our own health.
Sarah Claborn is a former English turned CTE teacher at Bakersfield High School and adjunct Professor for Sacramento State University. Three years running students picked her as “Teacher of the Year,” and she is currently pursuing her Ed.D. in Education: Curriculum and Instruction. She hopes, one day, to become a full-time professor of education imparting her passion for teaching youth to future educators.