Global Covid-19, Education and children's services

Back to school during Covid-19

As Scottish schools are consolidating lessons from returning to in person teaching during a pandemic and English and Irish schools prepare to go back, we take a look at what it’s been like to teach in a country with rising Covid-19 cases.  Beth Lerner is an educator in the state school system in  Lawrence County, Tennessee. She shared her experience of preparing to go back to school as a parent and a teacher. 

The past 6 weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions and of policies being formulated, adapted, changed, and implemented in preparation for the opening of school.  I think most school systems in Tennessee were trying to see what their COVID-19 numbers were going to be before they decided which type of schedule they would implement for this school year.  As a result, many school systems (and parents) were left scrambling to make plans at the last minute.  I must commend the interim superintendent of Lawrence County School System, Michael Adkins.  He made the decision  that masks would be required of students and staff, unless there was a medical reason prohibiting them.  I have to say, this gave me  a lot of confidence in his leadership.

As you probably know, there has been a segment of our population decrying masks and refusing to wear them.  Making a stand in favor of masks was not a popular stance among many parents. For the most part, students have been compliant in wearing them.  Another thing our local school system has done is give students and parents the option of having a hybrid schedule or remote schedule.  Hybrid students attend school 2 days per week, and do remote learning 3 days per week.  Remote students have 5 days online.  On hybrid schedule days, only half of the students are here at a time.  This allows for social distancing.  Our school system is taking safety very seriously, and has given parents as many choices as possible.

Just up the road in Maury County, no safety measures are being taken other than giving parents the option of remote learning.  Masks are encouraged, but not mandatory (the county mayor of Maury County is against making masks mandatory).  Classrooms are packed full.  A dear friend of mine teaches math at one of the middle schools there, and he has up to 35 students in each of his classes.  There is no way to social distance in a packed classroom.  Many teachers in that school system are terrified. I have another friend whose husband is a cancer patient and he no longer is able to work.  Donna is the sole breadwinner of the family, and she carries the family’s health insurance through the school system.  She is terrified of bringing the virus home to her husband, but she can’t quit because of the insurance. Hers is just one of many stories.  Maury County teachers have now been classed as ‘essential workers’, instead of this giving them extra protection, it means that they must come to work even if they have been exposed to Covid-19 (unless they have symptoms).

If teachers speak out on social media, they are called lazy and accused of just wanting to get a paycheck. It seems to me that this virus has brought out the worst in so many people.  They have zero empathy for others’ situations.

Here in Lawrence County, I have heard from several teachers who are struggling with balancing the hybrid and remote classes.  Teachers are teaching during the day and posting online assignments and grading student work (online and paper) at night.  Many tell me they are working every night until 9-10.  Many have children of their own that they are neglecting in order to get the online work done.  I know that teachers are strong and that they will continue this until they burn out, mentally and/or physically.  It can’t sustain indefinitely.  It shouldn’t be expected of them.

Likewise, the online portion of instruction has been very difficult for most students.  My daughter is a strong student, but she is struggling to adjust to this new format.  She is so used to having a teacher there to explain and answer questions,and she’s had several “come aparts” trying to navigate the online instruction herself while I’m at school.  I hope that with time everyone will understand what expectations are reasonable for students, teachers, and parents.

We have recently been sent a video message encouraging us not to work until late each night and to make time for ourselves and families first to avoid stress and burnout.Thankfully, I don’t feel fearful at school.  My co-workers and I wear our masks diligently.  The school system has supplied everyone with clorox wipes, thermometers, hand sanitizer, and paper masks to give to students who need them.  I feel as comfortable as is possible during a global pandemic.  My principal is fantastic and is supportive of teachers’ needs and feelings.

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