“It’s a lot of work, but it’s been really great,” she said. The high school English teacher relies on project-based, collaborative learning techniques. Students had discovered how to mute and kick her and others out of the virtual classroom. Students are expected to stay at their desks, which meant building new lesson plans. “We’re not receiving information in a timely manner,” she told Insider. That means students and teachers may be looking at screens from around 8 am to 3:30 pm. To try and impress upon the students in the building that peers are still there — just behind computer screens — he’ll sometimes extend (from a distance) his microphone and headphones so they can see their classmates at home. The plan was for Reynolds to teach virtually from her classroom. “If I was to have an in-person class now, that anxiety would hit me so hard that I would be so much more focused on being careful,” Reeves told Insider. She said she imagines altering those classes again for future in-person instruction won’t ease that workload. The first day of school was filled with confusion, patience, and smiles
On August 30, Reynolds welcomed her second-grade class. Some schools have settled on a middle, “hybrid” approach, a combination of virtual and in-person learning. She spent the last 18 years loving her job, but students coming back to classrooms this October brought a different wave of emotion. She had been worried that her fourth graders wouldn’t be engaged on the virtual platform, but the opposite was true. Districts and schools have taken different approaches when it comes to managing the coronavirus. She’s planning on bringing them “goodies,” including headphones, and information packets on how to access resources like the health clinic, social workers, and meal distribution sites. Teachers at her school were told in late June that they would be teaching in-person wearing masks. Elementary school teacher Aliza Weinstock, who works at Schechter Manhattan, said preparing for an in-person return meant teachers reconfiguring classrooms and lesson plans per social distancing guidelines.
Even though she’s been teaching elementary school for 14 years, she said this school year has made her and her colleagues feel like they’re “brand new teachers all over again.”
And when students returned on Wednesday, Weinstock didn’t feel unsafe — just supported. I’m taking you to outer space,” Sosa told Insider. “I put in so much time, and I don’t think that that is atypical,” Goldstein said. Acadia Reynolds, a second-grade teacher at Mallinckrodt Academy of Gifted Instruction in St. “I felt discouraged, disrespected, disempowered, demoralized. Reeves said her summer wasn’t really a summer at all. “It was really the energy that brought me back and encouraged me to figure out Microsoft Teams.”
Reeves said her first day was full of laughter and smiles. When I come home, I’m exhausted.”
Weeks before school was scheduled to start, teachers still didn’t have answers
Katharina Kempf, a high-school Spanish teacher in New York City, spent the majority of the summer with a September 10 start date in mind.
Just over a week before she was scheduled to start classes, Mayor Bill de Blasio pushed the city’s start date back to September 21. “All of that stuff just had to go down the drain, and we had to start completely from scratch,” she said. One teacher in Baton Rouge, Louisiana has been teaching virtually, but coaching sports in person. “It was really good.”
For Weinstock, who identifies as a “planner,” letting go of knowing what will come next has been difficult.
“You have to have the attitude it’s one day at a time,” she said. Her school is using Microsoft Teams, which she said has been “really difficult for our younger students,” and “not very user-friendly.”
But once the students were all logged on, she tried her best to fill the day with smiles, she said. The start of the academic year begins for many districts on the Tuesday after Labor Day, although some schools have been open since early or mid-August. “It’s an incredible amount of screen time for students,” she said. But this year, collaboration is discouraged. “The value I’d want to put on my lesson wouldn’t be there because I’d be distracted by my health concerns.”
Meanwhile, teachers like Angie Wilson are eager to go back.
Wilson’s district in Greenville, South Carolina, had initially announced that students and families would have the option between in-person and virtual learning.
The high school English teacher said she had assumed that that meant students opting in for in-person learning would be in her classroom five days a week, but that wasn’t the case.
Greenville County Schools decided to slowly phase students back in person, first with one in-person day each week. A teachers’ union has already reported 16 positive coronavirus cases among staff at 16 schools in New York City, with teachers only in classrooms since Tuesday and classes not having started yet.
Across the country, at least six teachers have died since early August after contracting the coronavirus following returns to school. While it is unclear if any of those teachers were infected at school, their deaths stoke teacher fears of returning to the classroom. Being asthmatic, Reeves said she didn’t feel safe in a school building. The decision to go virtual or in-person
Kerry-Ann Reeves, a fourth-grade teacher, donned a T-shirt that read “back to school-ish” for her first day on Tuesday. Wilson said she spent her summer adapting lesson plans. Reeves said she felt her district’s superintendent didn’t listen to teachers like her, who felt the first half of the academic year should be virtual. Needless to say, going back to school has looked a little bit different this year: While some students have opened classroom doors, others have opened their school-issued laptops for the first time this week.
Insider spoke to a dozen teachers across the country about the start of the school year. She said it took patience to get all 21 students logged in. She sees one set of students on Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday is all virtual, and then a second set of students on Thursday and Friday.
“I was really upset at first because I wanted to go back to school full-time,” Wilson told Insider. They all went around and shared two fun facts about themselves, she discussed Zoom expectations, and read “All Are Welcome” to her students.
“My interaction with them yesterday and today just put that at ease,” she said. She doesn’t know if her school will remain open for the whole year, or if they’ll eventually get sent home — and for how long. This year, all that work was far more confusing, disorganized, and, well, busier. Multiple teachers said they spent personal time completing workshops and webinars preparing for what they assumed would be a virtual fall. Kempf said she learned about the new start date through a colleague who texted her during the mayor’s press conference. Teachers — and, notably, their robust union — had pushed back against the plan to be partially in the classroom, and also expressed frustrations over losing time to plan for remote learning. There have already been signs of what has and hasn’t been working. “It’s been so amazing back in person with kids.”
Sosa, the lead astronaut of his classroom, said that “being a teacher should not be a high-risk job.”
But the fact that teachers are adapting to all of the challenges thrown their way — and navigating this new reality shows that “this is a labor of love.”SEE ALSO: Chicago teachers follow up a historic 2019 strike with a 2020 ultimatum: Schools won’t open in person
Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: 5 game-changing painting products for your next project Sosa, a new teacher at Boston’s Jewish Community Day School (JCDS), decided his students would learn how to be astronauts this semester, to give them a framework for understanding — and effectively learning — during the pandemic.
“The world is upside down, and …. “It was honestly a blur, and I felt pretty defeated at the end of the day.”
The next day, students were logged on and excited to learn. While her school district decided whether to bring students back in the classroom, she took personal time to learn how to use Zoom and other online platforms, like Nearpod and Flipgrid.
Adina Goldstein, a seventh-grade English and social studies teacher in South Philadelphia, said her school had a week of professional development before the semester kicked off. The Department of Education and the State of New York are not showing teachers the respect that we need and the support that we need.”
Reynolds also experienced similar last-minute changes to her work schedule. “It’s just been a huge undertaking. As a mom of two, a hybrid model meant that she would also need to find daycare for when her own children weren’t at school.
“I think as a teacher, you go in expecting that you’re going to be in a Petri dish of germs,” she said, but Wilson acknowledged that she’s unsure what her opinion would be if she had preexisting conditions. She said her official school calendar wasn’t posted until Saturday, six days before school was initially scheduled to start. Her school has been virtual since it started back up again in mid-August, and will continue to be virtual for the time being, but she said adapting her classes has proven to be no small feat. But she spent the summer taking continuing education courses. Alleviating the isolation that astronauts feel was particularly relevant for Sosa — because he’s the only instructor giving “hybrid” lessons at his small private school. Another in Northern New Jersey said she is “exhausted” from teaching both in front of a classroom with a group of third graders — and to a camera broadcasting to more virtual students. to 10 p.m. After sit-ins hosted by the teachers’ union, public conversations, parental outrage, and school board meetings the district decided to move to a virtual platform. Summary List Placement
Middle school science teacher Avraham Sosa’s students are astronauts in training. Reynolds set up her classroom, but a few days later was informed that she would need to pack it up and teach from home.
“Things have just been week-by-week, day-by-day changes,” she said.
In Chicago, public schools were set to reopen with a hybrid model, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot reversed course in early August. But he has students in the classroom at the same time. The teachers described to Insider a period marked by nerves, exhaustion, and lack of organization. The 30-year-old has set up three different cameras for students tuning in from home: one in the front of the classroom, one in the back, and one from his phone. She estimated that most days she is working from 7 a.m. Rebecca Coven, a 10th-grade English and social-studies teacher at Sullivan High School, was one of the teachers organizing with the Chicago Teachers’ Union.
She’s teaching completely remotely for now, but said teachers are locked into a schedule they voted on back in May — months before the district went remote. Others have chosen to welcome students in person, with new safeguards like plastic desk shields, mask requirements, and sanitizer in hand. Summer breaks were nonexistent for many teachers this year
Everyone knows kids get summer vacations, but the work often doesn’t stop for teachers during those months. During class, he keeps a headphone in one ear to hear any comments from students calling in. Reynolds estimates that she spent about three hours every day working on the site for her future students. Other teachers had to redesign their lesson plans to fit virtual and social-distance learning. One sixth-grade English teacher at a charter school in Nashville, Tennessee told Insider that the summer’s hard work barely put a dent into her workload for the school year. Louis, Missouri, spent her summer designing and building a website her students could use in the fall. Three weeks later and Wilson is teaching in a hybrid structure. Some, like Chicago, Illinois, have opted for fully virtual learning, where students are expected to spend the majority of the day in front of their computer. She had three student birthdays the first week, so they all sang and celebrated together.
“I was being really goofy and overly animated just to try and get them to crack a smile,” she said. Reeves, who teaches at Daniel Webster Elementary School in New Rochelle, New York, said she always knew she was destined to be a teacher. To supplement that online learning, Coven and her fellow teachers will be completing socially distanced one on one meetings with students. A majority of schools haven’t been open for a full month yet, and some haven’t even started welcoming students back.