How do teachers feel about schools reopening?

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Abigail Peichel

Words that teachers have used to describe how they feel about schools reopening

We are fast approaching one year since COVID-19 drastically changed everyone’s daily routine. However, things seem to slowly be getting back to normal, maybe a little too soon. After what seems like years of quarantine, restaurants, malls, and schools are starting to open up again while COVID-19 still rages through the country and the world.

What a year this week has been!”

— Anonymous

It is no question that everyone is longing for some sense of normalcy, and we have gotten that with everyone back in school together. However, many students and teachers are apprehensive about this move. We find ourselves asking “Is it safe to be here?  Are we putting our family and friends at risk?”

These are all valid concerns, and I wanted to know more about how people felt about the reopening of schools, especially teachers.

The immense stress and pressure that this pandemic has put on students and teachers makes this decision harder. (Fair use photo from vox.com)

The reactions have been overall the same: scared, underappreciated, concerned, anxious, and all of the above. One teacher said: “As an older teacher with an older husband at home who has compromised lungs, I feel very anxious about being at school. I do not appreciate, after teaching in the public system for 40 years, being treated as a guinea pig and a political scapegoat.” 

Another teacher by the name of Hannah Wysong from Arizona said “I want to serve the students, but it’s hard to say you’re going to sacrifice all of the teachers, paraprofessionals, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers.” 

Many teachers also claim that this pandemic has changed their perspective on their profession due to the lack of guidelines being followed and the lack of respect for safety.

I had the opportunity to talk with two of Sartell’s well-respected English department teachers; the journalism teacher, Michele Nelson, and the English teacher, Emily Schmit, about how they feel about the reopening of schools and how the pandemic has changed their lives in general. Both had amazing and insightful things to say.

Abby: How do you feel about schools reopening during this trying time? Do you feel safe?

Schmit:I know the decision-making in regard to when and how to open schools has been quite difficult, there are a lot of moving parts and unknown factors to consider. But I am happy to see and interact with kids in person again.” 

Schmit:I feel relatively safe at school, especially since I am pretty vigilant about safety and cleanliness measures in my classroom.”

Michele Nelson (journalism teacher) shares her thoughts about schools reopening. (Abigail Peichel)

Nelson:I was pretty worried at first. Like sick to my stomach nervous, but the benefits of being with students again (and of course being able to get vaccinated) has really changed my attitude.  It feels so good to be back doing things mostly normal again with students.”

Abby: What specific actions would you want to see implemented in order for you to feel safer?

Schmit: “I think consistent mask-wearing, hand washing, and maintaining social distance as best we can are extremely important. I also hope to see very vigilant responses and follow-through in regard to response to positive test results in our staff and student body.”

Nelson:If people would just wear their masks the right way, I’d feel better.” 

Abby: How has this impacted your life as a teacher? How has this pandemic changed your view of your profession? 

Schmit: I was just thinking the other night about how crazy this experience has been—when I first went into teaching ten years ago, I never would have guessed I would have had to pivot so that all of my teachings were done through a computer screen. The last year has been quite dystopian in nature, but also, it is interesting how quickly it has become normal in a lot of ways. I think teachers and students have adjusted and taken their present reality with stride, even though it has not been without a TON of challenges. I guess one realization I walk away with is just how important schooling is, and despite extreme circumstances, it is amazing how we are able to continue with this valuable asset to our community and society.”

Nelson: Well, it increased my stress level to astronomical heights. I thought last fall was going to break me! I was so stressed. I never thought of myself as a super flexible person (not a big go-with-the-flow kind of gal) but this past year has taught me that even though I am super uncomfortable with not knowing what the next two weeks will bring, I can still endure it. I think the pandemic has shown the U.S. that teachers and schools do so much more than educate. I care greatly for students and not just that they know what a noun or a verb is or that they can write a paper, but I care that they are okay and happy and are eating enough and are living somewhere safe.”

My collection of masks that I’ve acquired throughout this pandemic. (Abilgail Peichel)

Overall, school systems are struggling to reopen their doors in a way that meets the financial and logistical challenges of doing so safely. They will need to “carefully weigh teachers’ concerns to avoid a wave of leave requests, early retirements, or resignations driven by health fears.”

All I can say is that it’s sad that some school districts are making their teachers feel underappreciated when they have endured so much during this trying time. We should be focusing on the opinions of educators more, rather than seeing how fast we can reopen schools. It is only causing more problems.

Stay safe and wear your mask!