Making it Work: An Educator’s Perspective on Back to School

Summertime for me, as a teacher, means extra time to plan, attend PD, and organize for the coming year. But it also allows for a bit more balance than during the school year. We can stay up later, have lazy mornings, and watch far more TV than I’d care to admit. One of the more guilty pleasures of mine this summer has been copious amounts of Project Runway reruns. The mentor on the older seasons has a phrase he uses to motivate the contestants when they’re feeling stuck: “make it work!”. Reflecting on the historical and monumental events of the past few months I can’t help but think that we educators are in for our own “make it work” moment come fall.

We teachers fill our metaphorical buckets through student interactions, pedagogy, and connection. So it’s understandable how many of us are aching to return to our classrooms, our students, and to some sense of normalcy. But, with COVID has come distance learning, the possibility ossibility of future school closures, and fear about exposure and other unknowns should schools reopen in the Fall. Recently a USA Today/IPSOS Poll published the headline Poll: 1 in 5 teachers will not return to classrooms this fall if schools reopen. While the reasoning behind not returning certainly is subjective, the raw data in this survey is telling. Of the teachers surveyed, 87% say they would have difficulty enforcing social distancing among their students. I’m surprised the percentage isn’t higher…

I teach 6 and 7-year olds, but I’ve watched middle schoolers walking between classrooms and it seems no one has any sense of personal space. Classroom management is already one of the biggest challenges teachers, especially new teachers, face in their profession. Add onto that the task of enforcing social distancing protocols. Many teachers aren’t ready to take on that responsibility. It’s hard for me to envision the responsibility of trying to keep my little ones socially distant for their health and safety, not solely for behavioral reasons. That’s a heavy burden to carry.

For me, though, the factor that weighs heaviest on my heart is remote learning. The USA Today poll found that “Less than half of teachers agree their school district trained them well for online or distance learning. Most report working more than usual and that they cannot properly do their job. There are also widespread concerns about parental support.” Online/distance learning requires an entirely different mindset that was very challenging for me. I miss my students. Replacing the daily interactions, a-ha moments, and thoughtful planning (or drastically changing them) makes me relate to teachers who think they may not return to teaching. While I have no intention of leaving the profession, when you add on the risk of exposure to a virus, and the aforementioned responsibilities of social distancing with children it all seems so overwhelming.

No one knows what will happen next year. School may open just to close again. This cycle might repeat itself several times. We could reopen with social distancing protocols so stringent school no longer resembles the environment we love or with so few that we hardly notice. We just don’t know. While some states and districts are slowly releasing guidelines and plans for the school year, (mine just ordered 60,000 face masks) the lack of control is scary. What I do know is that teachers are going to have to do some soul searching and reflecting in addition to their usual summer repertoire. We are used to “making it work” with dwindling resources. We know what it’s like to drop our plans and turn on a dime to accommodate new mandates or, in the case of school closures, near-immediate conversion to online learning.  Some will decide the risk is just too high or that they are not willing and able to teach in such a demanding environment. Others will stick it out and make the best of a wholly unprecedented situation.

For me, I’ve decided to give myself permission to try not to worry. When the time comes to go back, I will rely on my experience and my love for the profession and my students to take what comes this upcoming school year and do my very best to once again, “make it work.”

Dayna Burke is a veteran first-grade teacher of 13 years currently teaching in the Millard Public School District in Omaha, Nebraska. She has a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and is a National Board-Certified Teacher in Literacy: Reading and Language Arts. She has been fortunate to hold several leadership roles including Professional Development Facilitator, Instructional Coaching, New Teacher Mentor, and Cooperating Teacher. She is a Teacher Champion Fellow for the Collaborative for Student Success, a mathematics content review for Edreports, and provides support for National Board Candidates. Dayna believes in the power of teacher collaboration and enjoys every opportunity to learn from and support one another.