Return to Learn: The Teacher Perspective

As school districts across the country prepare for the beginning of the 2020-21 academic year, we felt that it was important to hear from teachers about their thoughts and fears about their districts’ return to learn plans. This is a stressful time for everyone, as we learn to navigate the changes that COVID-19 has brought. Hearing teachers’ perspectives is helpful for us as admission professionals as we reflect on the ways in which our own work will change this upcoming fall.

Of the three teachers that were interviewed, two were from Iowa and one was from Illinois. One is from a larger suburban district, and two are from smaller, more rural districts. All are veteran teachers who have been teaching for several years. The interviews were submitted anonymously. 

 1.      What is your school's Return to Learn plan for the upcoming fall semester?

Teacher A: Parents have the option of either 5 day full remote learning or a 2 day hybrid schedule.  School will be divided in half with Group A coming T/W and Group B coming TH/F.  While students are e-learning the other three days, they will have both synchronous and asynchronous learning.**

Teacher B: We are going to be returning to school full time starting on the 24th of August, with as many social distancing and cleaning practices in place as possible. Masks, as of now, will be required of no one, but are recommended. We do have conditional plans on switching to part time or fully online should the need arise.

Teacher C: Pending board approval, we are likely to do hybrid learning, with half of the school appearing every other day. Students at home, currently, are going to be asked to tune in for class livestreams, though this is likely to change. (Fingers crossed)


2.      Do you feel safe in returning to school this fall?

Teacher A: I feel the school is doing everything it can to ensure the staff and students will be safe to the best of their abilities.  I am not sure anyone is completely safe, but I am comfortable knowing that I have been taking precautions and the district is trying to do so as well.

Teacher B: I do feel safe. This is a selfish position, as (statistically) my household and the people I see most regularly are not at a high risk, but I still feel that it is the right call (if there even is a right call in this situation) to at least start out this way.

Teacher C: Having any sort of plan made me feel safer, but still, I'm operating under the assumption I or other teachers will contract the virus, and schools will go back to online only anyway.


3.      What are your biggest concerns about the fall semester?

Teacher A: I am concerned people will get sick.  I am also concerned about designing a lesson plan that serve the needs of the students sitting in front of me, as well as the students who are “zooming” into class.  Will these lessons also serve my students with IEP’s and 504’s?  How do I classroom manage students who are in class online while I am also managing students who are in front of me, without getting near them?

Teacher B: My biggest concerns with this Semester are that, at some point, we will have to shut it all down again and go back to fully online, and that students may not be prepared for this. That is why, however, I feel at least going back for a bit is good. That face-to-face time to start the year may be enough to get things in place so that if we have to go online, we at least had some time together.

Teacher C: Obviously getting sick is a very big concern, but I'm also concerned about my students catching it from each other, or spreading it to their own families. The return to school is famous for getting people sick anyway, and I don't see this year being any different, just more severe. In addition, I am worried about elementary students who need much more social interaction with their peers and teachers being forced to remain separate. This is the right call, but it breaks my heart to think of little kids still needing to deal with the virus.


4.      Is your return to school this fall changing any of your plans in your personal life?

Teacher A: My personal life will not see a significant change.  I am lucky in that I am part-time and will only need to be in school for half a day.  I also have childcare available to me, as my children may be home on days that I am at school.

Teacher B: Nope. We were not going to be doing anything anyways with a 6 month old, so he's off to daycare and we are going to be homebodies, as per usual!

Teacher C: I am meeting with my parents and parents-in-law to see them one last time before school starts- I will not be visiting them face to face until exposure and spread rates are minimal. I feel that I am incredibly likely to become a transmission vector and don't want to risk spreading it to my parents. This means that visits most likely won't happen until 2021.


5.      How do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted and will impact student learning?

Teacher A: We have seen a shift in education towards a more student centered approach to teaching.  Lessons are usually designed that include cooperative learning, discussions and simulations.  While these can be completed virtually, it is not the same as actually sitting face to face with someone and talking to them, discussing, debating.  Much of the student’s lessons will be done on a computer. 

Teacher B: In the short term, it is going to lead to a large number of students being academically behind (in both skills and content knowledge). However, I feel it will also usher in a new normal of a lot of online and technological learning skills which will prove vital in the years to come. So it has forced us to do something we would have done gradually over time anyways.

Teacher C: Many families will simply not attend, and opt in for either distance learning, online schools, or cobbled-together homeschool. Though I understand and respect the choice to prioritize the health of the student and families, we also have to be clear that none of those types of learning will reach the level of in-person, professional teacher education. However, at the same time, the restrictions placed on us by the pandemic will also reduce the quality of learning- a minor social issue at school can quickly derail a student's learning, and students are likely to be distracted and worried. The fall of 2020 will be far less rigorous and students will likely experience less growth through very little fault of their own. Last spring's sudden end to the school year sent us scrambling to create a fair grading process, and I'm not sure we've found the right balance between rigor and compassion quite yet. Factors like homelessness already impact too many of Iowa's students, but now, thanks to COVID, 48% of Iowan renters are facing evictions without any likely support. That will absolutely destroy the stability and safety necessary for adequate learning, even before the health issues that complicate schooling.


6.      What has it been like preparing for hybrid learning (if that is your school's model)?

Teacher A: I don’t even know where to start.

Teacher B: Not a ton of guidance, but enough of a heads up that I can at least prepare the basics before getting really into it when we go back in August.

Teacher C: Hybrid learning, if it goes the way I expect (since none of us have experienced it yet) will halve the amount of days I get to spend with students. That's a lot of personal connection time gone, but also a lot of learning opportunities passed by. Work will need to be done on off days, but it significantly reduces opportunities for questions and hands-on teacher/student work. I am needing to hyper-prioritize my lesson plans to reduce them to the most important skills and concepts, and it's been tough in past years to fit all the things I want to cover in a full school year, much less half of one.


7.      How much notice do you have to plan for hybrid learning? How has that impacted your planning?

Teacher A: We were informed of the schedule on July 13th and we start school on August 17th.

Teacher B: We have been hearing rumors of it since June, but did not get the official heads up about needing to start up classrooms in case until the middle of July.

Teacher C: We were only told to prepare for hybrid learning on 7/28, less than a month before students return. However, we're teaching in a strange, new environment. I don't think it'd be useful to try and plan classes too far into the year at this point, with such little idea of how the day-to-day and week-to-week process will actually look. Getting the first unit done and letting the others wait until more has been figured out and settled is a better idea.


8.      Is your district providing the equipment that you need (i.e., masks if required, cleaning supplies for your classroom), or are you required to supply your own?

Teacher A: Our school will be providing us with N95 masks and a face shield.   They will also be providing cleaning supplies.

Teacher B: I assume they will be providing it, but nothing has really been said specifically. It has been hinted that it will be provided by the district, however.

Teacher C: My district is providing cleaning supplies, and has offered face shields to teachers, though I am opting for a mask instead. Students will be required to wear masks, and I believe these will also be provided for students who can not or will not obtain their own.


9.      Is there anything else you'd like to share about returning to the classroom this fall?

Teacher A: I just hope everyone is patient and kind to each other.  There is no simple solution as there are different circumstances for different families.  The most important thing people can do is learn how to talk to each other respectfully.

Teacher B: I hope that students come ready to learn, because I am certainly ready to teach!

Teacher C: These issues could have been avoided with more governmental support, forethought, and leadership. To pretend that education and teaching are apolitical arenas is ridiculous. Mandatory mask laws, monetary support to keep people home (and un-evicted, as many students will likely face...), more support for schools to engage in different kinds of learning... all of these issues were dismissed politically and the failure to solve the problems are now being hoisted on public school teachers and students, as well as families. I can't tell my students all of this for ethics concerns, but that doesn't mean it isn't 100% true.

 ** After their responses were submitted, Teacher A’s district announced that they would be transitioning to an entirely remote format.


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