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

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

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And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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