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4 Teachers Share What It's Like To Teach During The Pandemic

"We all know that teachers are woefully overworked and underpaid. I feel it this year more than ever."

Workin' Girl

Growing up, teachers were real-life superheros. Always organized and knew what to do, regardless of the situation. They were the forefront of the school, nurturing in nature, and social workers, educators, friends, disciplinarians, and intermittent parents all in one.

And obviously, with being in the midst of a pandemic, like most life-altering cases involving kids, teachers are most affected. Beginning in the spring of the previous school year, schools were shut down and students, parents, and teachers were thrown in virtual gauntlet—a world many of them were completely unfamiliar with.

There was minimal instruction, unclear best practices, and just plain ole uncertainty.

This made me wonder, what would they have to say about the current state of teaching? What changes have they noticed, how have their students been affected, and what good and bad shifts, in educating, have developed? To answer those questions, I found four teachers willing to discuss this newfound adjustment to pandemic learning.

Here's what they told me:

Nicole Jennings on Teaching During a Pandemic: 

Courtesy of Nicole Jennings

Location: Prince George's County, Maryland

Grade: 2nd

Length of being a teacher: 8 years

On what it's like teaching during a pandemic:

Teaching during this pandemic has been such an interesting experience--full of anxiety and challenges but also victories and growth. At the beginning of the year, there were so many obstacles to overcome. Students didn't know how to use the technology they had been given. Helping my parents was an arduous task due to language barriers, lack of experience with technology, and even illiteracy in some cases. The expectations of the district were extremely overwhelming for teachers, parents and students. Trying to figure out how best to help parents and students required a lot of trial and error until I figured out routines, resources and support that worked for us.

I thought that the teaching itself would be the hardest part but I have been pleasantly surprised to find that it is the most enjoyable. I really enjoy engaging with my students on various digital platforms. So many of them caught on so quickly. I like to think of them as technology experts-in-training. In some ways it feels like my first year of teaching all over again. I have to reevaluate everything I thought I knew about teaching and modify it to fit the realities of distance learning.

I feel anxious and stressed almost every single day. It has been so much harder to maintain a healthy work/life balance this year and sometimes I feel upset that I have failed at maintaining a balance. It has been hard to accept that I can not give more than I am currently giving for the sake of my mental health and wellness. We all know that teachers are woefully overworked and underpaid. I feel it this year more than ever.

On the pros and cons of distance learning:

Prior to distance learning, lack of equity has been an ongoing issue within the education system. Many students were not getting the intervention or services they needed while in the school setting. Students are "falling behind". The achievement gap is widening every day that they are not receiving the in-person instruction they need.

The hardest part of distance learning is definitely the amount of time that has to be invested into it. It is extremely time-consuming. I feel like 75 percent of my work is done beyond duty hours, after school and on the weekends. On some days, I am up planning and creating digital lessons and assignments until 11:00pm. Daily, I find myself feeling tired, tense and frustrated.

On a more positive note, everyone involved in distance learning is growing in some sort of way. I have learned a lot about my capabilities as a teacher. I have been exposed to programs and digital platforms that I probably would've never tried. Distance learning has immersed students in the world of technology. As a teacher, it is such a good feeling to watch students grow and develop their skills and interests.

I love watching my future engineers and computer scientists discovering new things while learning through inquiry. I see their curiosity growing and their ability to problem solve strengthening. If I can successfully build positive relationships with families while providing effective instruction during distance learning, I know I can do anything.

On what she wants parents and teachers to know:

Distance learning is so hard but we are trying! Please know that teachers are putting in the work daily. We know that this is especially hard for families. We are advocating for families and doing everything we can to help our students. Know that your concerns are not going unheard. We are aggressively passing them along and fighting for you!

Please be kind with us. Check on your teacher friends. Teaching during a pandemic is taxing and not all of us are OK.

My advice for teachers is to not recreate the wheel. If there is a free Teachers Pay Teachers or Nearpod lesson you can use, use it! Take it and modify to fit the needs of your students but do not start from scratch for every single lesson. Collaborate with your teammates, divvy up the workload. If you are not departmentalized, have each teammate take a subject to plan for so that you do not have to plan for each and every subject.

Do whatever you must to lessen your workload so you can reclaim and reinvest that time back into yourself.

L'Tanya Taylor on Teaching During a Pandemic:

Courtesy of L'Tanya Taylor

Location: Houston, Texas

Grade: 8th grade ELA

Length of being a teacher: 6 years

On what it's like teaching during a pandemic:

My experience during this pandemic had been hectic to say the least. Not only am I a teacher but I'm also a single mother of two school-aged children. Balancing working from home while they attending "virtual school" was challenging, but now we are all back on campus. The workload is still heavy. The only difference is now everything is digital so the teachers and the students have a learning curve. Getting "virtual students" to actively participate has also proven to be difficult.

Many students go weeks at a time before they attempt to do the work and it puts them further behind, causing greater gaps in their learning. There are also numerous students who have been unaccounted for. They have never checked in, therefore the district has to classify them as dropouts.

On the pros and cons of distance learning:

The only pro I can think of is the incorporation of technology. COVID-19 has allotted a unique way for teachers to implement instruction that is fun and engaging. Although physical classroom instruction is best, the way we now implement that instruction looks very different. Instructional practices are limited, and students and teachers are in constant fear [of contracting the virus]. Social interactions are closely monitored and highly restricted for students and staff alike.

On what she wants parents and teachers to know:

Prior to the school year, my biggest concerns were how would I build relationships with my students and what learning gaps would need to be addressed.

But now my biggest gripe is that teachers are not on-call workers. We have our own lives and our own families. We know that students and parents have concerns (we have them too) but please respect our time and office hours. Also please be patient. This is new for everyone. We are all experiencing a learning curve.

We also need parent/guardian support. Have your child on the scheduled Zoom and Google Meet sessions. Please treat their learning time at home the same way you would if they were physically at school.

And teachers, be kind to yourself. Take care of your needs, continue to build relationships with your students. And Nearpod is a life-saver.

Jassmine Smith on Teaching During a Pandemic:

Courtesy of Jassmine Smith

Location: Atlanta, GA

Grade: 4th grade/ Special Education

Length of being a teacher: 4 years

On what it's like teaching during a pandemic:

As one can imagine, this year has been the most unique of them all. My school district is currently 100 percent online, and the model is constantly being reassessed based on the number of COVID cases. As a special education teacher, it has been very difficult adjusting to virtual teaching. The level of documentation that is being requested is insane. It has doubled since going virtual.

On the pros and cons of distance learning:

Many of my students are struggling to stay attentive during lessons, as they are not used to sitting at a computer for the majority of the day. Some students don't show up for virtual instruction at all. I have enjoyed being able to work a couple of feet from my bed, but I miss being able to see my students face-to-face. There were no two days that were the same.

On the contrary, students and teachers are becoming much more tech-savvy. Virtual learning was inevitable, but we had no clue that it would come this soon.There are a lot of educational programs that offer excellent instructional support. Additionally, I truly miss seeing my students in-person and feeding off of their energy. It is difficult for students to collaborate and complete assignments together.

Most teachers are working twice as hard as they were in-person.

On what she wants parents and teachers to know:

There were many praises exclaimed for teachers, but all I could think was, "SHOW ME THE MONEY!" I thought the gratitude would have been shown by giving us a well-deserved pay increase. Instead, in my state, our pay was cut and we experienced an insurance cost increase.

I wish people knew that educators are working twice as hard to ensure that students receive the necessary instruction. In the midst of the pandemic, many districts have cut teachers' pay, and expect the same level of performance prior to the pandemic. Teachers are being evaluated on performance and students are expected to complete a standardized test, as if life has returned to normal. I personally feel that teachers are not given the grace that we are expected to give students and parents due to the pandemic.

I advise all teachers to prioritize themselves, especially in these times. We should make time to pour into ourselves so that we don't burn out by constantly pouring into others. Secondly, GIVE YOURSELF A RAISE! It is apparent that we can not wait for our states and counties to give us what we deserve. I encourage teachers to develop their passions into a side hustle. Provide yourself the lifestyle you deserve and desire.

Corine White on Teaching During a Pandemic:

Courtesy of Corine White

Location: Philadelphia, PA

Grade: 1st

Length: 2 years

On what it's like teaching during a pandemic:

Teaching during a pandemic has been tiring. Last year, school ended quickly and without much time we had to bring many resources digital. That was difficult for me because I had never taught virtually before. I was somewhat at ease because I knew that even though this was our current circumstance, it may not be for long. I was obviously wrong and now that we are expected to have Zoom school every day, testing, assignments on seesaw, and stay in constant communication with parents, it is exhausting.

On the pros and cons of distance learning:

Some pros are not having a full school day, not having to get fully dressed for the weather elements, and being able to eat whatever I want without smelling up the staff microwave. The con is that many parents and people with other professions don't quite understand the amount of work and stress that teachers are now under because of the changes.

I've been yelled at and made to feel disposable by so many parents and others that it often makes me feel like no one has our backs.

I thought the pandemic would be over in no time. I didn't think that I would be where I am now and not being able to physically go to work. I never thought that I would be teaching from a screen and trying to come up with every way to keep my scholars from falling asleep, or to stop unmuting themselves.

On what she wants parents and teachers to know:

I wish people knew that it is way more work. There's a large misconception that our jobs are easier now when, in reality, virtual learning has made our careers a lot tougher.

To other teachers out there, you are good enough. Don't get down on yourself because your students aren't understanding the material or aren't paying attention. As long as you are doing what you can, that's all you can do. Do your best not to lose sleep or not to spend time with friends/family because of work. There are teachers out there who are going through the same feelings. Reach out to them at your school or on Instagram because we are all feeling it right now.

Feature image courtesy of Jassmine Smith

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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