Students and parents aren’t the only ones nervous about the possibility of continued virtual learning or a return to school in fall. Teachers are afraid to go back too, according to a recent USA today study . One in five teachers reported they likely wouldn’t return to their in-person job if school reopens. The shocking number has caused politicians, families, and districts to reexamine reopening. What will school look like with 20 percent of staff missing? The study further revealed that nine in ten teachers would find social distancing nearly impossible in a school setting. Unfortunately, less than half of teachers feel trained enough to do virtual learning again effectively.
When it comes to parents, less than half of the general public feels comfortable reopening schools before a vaccine is available. And, over 50% of parents say they would be “very or somewhat likely” to switch their child to at-home learning if schools reopen.
Teachers around the country have had a variety of reactions to both the study and to the dilemma of how to best reopen schools.
Finances a Consideration
Teaching is often a steady and necessary income within a family’s financial plan. So some teachers are naturally confident they want to return to teaching, even in person, despite potential health risks. In addition, the cost of education just to become a teacher means student loans won’t pay themselves. One elementary teacher, who is being moved from her computer teaching position back into a full-time 2nd-grade classroom in the fall, calls it “stress on top of stress.” She will definitely be returning, even in person, to cover “student loans, other house bills, and daycare costs.”
Burned Out on Virtual Teaching
Others are less concerned financially, rather they are just over virtual teaching. Kristina Peters, a secondary math teacher in Ohio is ready to get in a classroom. “I think it needs to be differentiated as to what circumstances the school will be in. If we are offered the opportunity to return to the school setting in the manner school was conducted prior to March 12, 2020, I would say one hundred percent yes [I’d return]. If the state, district, etc. starts placing learning prohibitive restrictions and regulations, then my answer would change.”
Teachers have mixed feelings. We see pictures of socially distanced recesses and students eating in classrooms and stuck in the same room all day. We want everyone to be safe, but we also want quality education to continue.
Feelings of Duty
Another high school counselor compares teachers’ edginess to the fear after Columbine. “We all went to work still,” she said. “As a taxpayer and parent, I am displeased with online schooling (and I live in one of the top districts in Ohio) and as an employee of taxpayers I know what is right and we need to go back. If you don’t want to go back then you have the summer to figure out a new career … it happens.”
Some teachers feel guilty voicing their feelings of concern at risking their own health and that of their feelings. The feeling of duty to the students and community is definitely a common thread. Heather Mitchell, a high school science teacher, says she’s “very concerned” about returning, both for her family’s health and her students’, especially as she has a high concentration of students living in multi-generational households or some who have health issues themselves.
“Unless major advances are made in treatment and prevention bringing large numbers of students and teachers together for long periods of time seems irresponsible. I know online learning is not ideal for most students but continuing into next year may save lives. I am in education to help people not endanger their own or their families’ lives. Children are remarkably resilient and another section of online/remote learning is not ideal for learning gains but would still be temporary in terms of students’ lives and teaching careers.”
New Rules … New Risks
Issues with the inability to social distance abound. From seating arrangements and purchasing different furniture to students’ and their parents’ opinions on wearing masks. And how do you possibly enforce masks with younger students? Teachers are also concerned with potential behavior issues arising with additional new rules. They wonder about the support they may or may not receive from administration. One high school English teacher said returning is “simply not safe.” She feels stuck because she is “unable to simply decide not to go back like the 1 in 5,” as she is a single mother supporting her child. “But I will be forced to put myself and my young child at risk, and that’s terrifying.”
Her concern also lies with the ability to enforce safety measures. “What will the procedure be for this? Speaking from personal experience working in two different districts, there is NOT a lot of support from the administration when it comes to handling disciplinary issues and there’s no consistency. My school has not proven that my safety is a priority, and that’s concerning.”
A K-5 reading specialist reveals she simply cannot perform her role during a full reopening. “My responsibility as an educator is to keep my students safe. All of them. How can I do so when some families are taking every precaution and other families are taking none? How will I sleep at night if a child in my care becomes sick?” And even worse … “How can I guarantee my students’ wellbeing as well as my own family’s health and safety if I’m forced into a tiny room with students who are traditionally sent to school every day even when they have a fever (free babysitting)?”
Focus No Longer on Education
If we can return, and if districts establish successful protocols, some teachers fear the focus won’t be on education. A K-8 Japanese language teacher won’t return unless she feels concern over finances. “I won’t be back if school opens up.” She worries her role will pivot to policing that kids don’t stand too close, don’t share items, and don’t touch each other. This will happen instead of education. In addition, budget cuts will cause increases in behavior problems and mental health issues, she predicts.
“Truthfully when I went to clean my classroom I witnessed my principals and her office staff eating lunch together, no mask, and congregating. My jaw dropped. That’s not safe. That’s not modeling safe behaviors and I don’t want to send my kid to school knowing that’s how low the standards can be.”
These teachers’ opinions reflect much of what we are hearing. For now, we sit and wait and watch how reopenings will be handled. But, it’s obvious that many teachers are afraid to return to the classroom.
What are your thoughts? Share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.
Author’s note: Most teachers wished to remain anonymous in interviews for this piece. They cited concerns about the divisive political climate in both their districts and the country relating to Coronavirus and education solutions.