The toll COVID-19 has taken on teachers, explained

The toll COVID-19 has taken on teachers, explained
Source: Johanna Geron, Reuters
TMS spoke to teachers around the United States to get their perspective on how things are going at schools during the pandemic.

In March 2020, most schools around the country suddenly shut down, leaving teachers, students and parents to reckon with the reality of school during a pandemic. Teachers adjusted as best they could, but faced challenges in light of all the things beyond their control.

Every district, whether private or public, dealt with the pandemic differently. TMS spoke to teachers around the United States to get their perspective on how things are going at schools during the pandemic.


Quarantine offered the first challenge for these teachers. Sarah O., who works at an elementary school outside of Los Angeles, already had digital tools in place to help her with the transition.

“Most of our curriculum was already online, as we used Canvas to house assignments and resources,” she explained. “So our students were able to keep up with the work fairly easily and had access to laptops.”

However, in rural Iowa, things were much more challenging for Theresa G., a college & career counselor, who also teaches dual-enrollment strategies for success class. Theresa G. works at two rural high schools and a community college.

“The high school work was optional, so we ended up going pass/fail. If they were passing when we left in March, they passed the semester,” she explained, “The dual-enrollment college classes were mandatory. My husband still had to teach every day through March & May, and I spent sixteen hours a day trying to get a hold of every kid in both my high schools to make sure they knew they had to do the class, make sure they were prepared for college financially.”

Many of Theresa G.’s students were first-generation immigrants. She recalls a particularly challenging interaction she had with one of her students.

“One of my boys didn’t have internet. I had to call him to confirm he can drop the class through the college, and I have to get a confirmation from the parent also. The mom is not an English speaker. She was in the hospital with Covid, her husband was not doing well either. When I asked her if he was okay with dropping the dual-enrollment class, she essentially said, ‘Who cares? I might die tomorrow.’”

Most teachers had issues motivating students without face-to-face contact.

“Our school didn’t have a set schedule for classes.,” Sarah O. explained. “We just held ‘office hours’ every day at a certain time and students were supposed to come if they had questions. They hardly ever did, so there wasn’t really a point to them.”

Tim B., an English teacher at a public academy in New Orleans, tried to make the best out of his newfound freedom.

“Other than getting an opportunity to teach from home, I found that I was actually doing more walking and exercising. I felt it was very freeing; I could do my job and take care of household chores in a time frame that was no longer constrained by clocking in and out by a certain time.”

New school year protocols

This summer, many teachers had mixed emotions before the start of the new school year. Many schools were scrambling to come up with hybrid schedules, socially-distanced classrooms and a schedule designed to fit fewer students into more classrooms. Some schools lacked the money and organization needed to cope with the new demands. Others rose to the occasion.

Tim B. was confident in the way his school was handling the situation. Tim’s school, a public academy, was already well-known for its organization and structure.

“My school was ultra-prepared. We had 100% virtual learning until Monday, January 25, 2021. This was done out of an abundance of caution.”

Though his school has since gone back to in-person learning, none of his classrooms have more than 10 students in them at a time.

“Today, we are in the Bravo plan, which means that no more than 25% of our cadets may be on campus at any given time. They can socially distance within the class, and masks are diligently worn as part of the uniform.”

Safety for Theresa G., though, was a bit more worrying.

“From the beginning of August until the week before Thanksgiving, there was no mask mandate at my main high school. Probably 10 kids out of 350 wore masks. There were also no checking-in protocols. You could come in sweating Covid and no one would know.”

She felt the community college, though, did as much as they could to ensure her safety, something that wasn’t afforded to her husband, who taught at a rural high school.

“The college did a lot to make us safe. Still, at staff meetings we had some very angry colleagues. They didn’t understand why they had to teach in a classroom during a pandemic. But they have all these protections, and my husband is in a school with 350 maskless students.”

Sarah O., whose district has been remote the entire pandemic, feels safe at home but has struggled to connect with her students.

“I have students who come to class but never participate or turn in work, and it’s difficult to engage them. We call their families, but we don’t quite know what’s going on at home to help them.”

Tim B. feels “absolutely supported” in his workplace. “My daughter’s school was closed last week, along with other Orleans Parish schools. Administration and human resources did not hesitate to work around my schedule to make sure she was cared for. Additionally. there is a zero-tolerance policy for those who do not wear their masks correctly and will not socially distance.”

COVID vaccines

After the successful trials of COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) generated a suggested list of those who should get vaccines first. Teachers were part of “Phase 1b,” receiving their vaccines only after healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities. Despite this, none of the teachers interviewed by TMS had received their shots at the time of publication.

“I have not gotten a vaccine as of yet.” Tim B. said. Unsurprisingly, though, his school appeared to be going about vaccine distribution in an organized way. “Our school nurse provided the faculty and staff with an opportunity to sign up for the vaccine at two locations. The school has agreed to give teachers and staff some time off during the day to get the vaccine. I am currently still on both waiting lists, but I have been told I may be able to get it by the end of February.”

Theresa P. was similarly lucky. “I’m getting the first dose on Wednesday, February 10.” Because she works at all three schools, she was able to be on all three lists. One of her schools is offering a vaccine clinic on campus for anyone who works at the school.

Sarah O., who is not allowed to return to in-class teaching until all teachers have been vaccinated, says she has not received the vaccine. “Teachers in LA are supposed to get them soon, but no one knows when. There has been talk of opening schools without vaccinated teachers, so who knows.”

Despite the serious challenges they’ve faced in light of the pandemic, Theresa says her students have risen to the occasion.

“My students are great. They’ve had so much thrown at them, and they’ve adapted so well.”

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