The world of teaching has changed. When I was little, I always heard that one day computers would replace teachers. However, now that I am a teacher and computers are everywhere, I have seen how wrong we all were. Education this year is different. We are focusing on making communities and making safe spaces without the traditional four walls of our classrooms. We are having to show compassion and love virtually.
Before word came out about the format of fall school openings, I was terrified. I was COVID-free and constantly worried about what opening school would mean for me, my family and my students. I love my students, and I am a teacher because I was born to be one. I love my job and I love my morning hugs. I love my hand holds that my kids give me when they’re having an off day, or when I am having an off day. However, this doesn’t mean I want to go back to school during COVID-19.
I was scared; I am scared. How will schools sanitize my classroom effectively when I still will have 21 to 25 kids in my room? How will my students learn to play and communicate appropriately when they are stuck in my classroom six hours a day without time on the playground and without different teachers and students interacting with them throughout the day? This sounds too much like quarantining, but instead of one family, it sounds like 24 kids and one teacher doing it. How will my school district supply cleaning supplies when the state is without enough, or how will bathrooms be sanitized when our janitorial staff is incredibly efficient but small? I believe in our staff. I think the world of them, but asking them to clean and sanitize an entire school every night while knowing how dangerous COVID-19 can be is crazy.
I woke up one morning this summer with a horrible headache, aching muscles and tingly-numb legs. A week or two later, my test came back positive for COVID-19.
The first thing out of my mother’s mouth, “Well, now at least if you have to go back to work, you’ll be okay.” Can you believe that? My mother worried about me being back in the classroom before worrying about who I had been around, if she had been exposed, or how long it had been since I had symptoms. She worried about me going back to work. Now that I’m back “in” the classroom, I can tell you thank goodness we started virtually. I am young and healthy and this virus kicked my butt. I can’t imagine someone I love having the same virus that can take many different forms.
This is uncharted territory for most. Choosing between education, feeding our students, parents needing to work, and the health of our families is something most teachers understand when a virus is rampant. However, usually the illness isn’t so serious. Usually, it is lice, strep, pink eye or the common cold, which most of our families have experienced, that keep children out of school and parents out of work. Virtual learning is hard; it is tricky, and it definitely cannot meet ALL the needs of all the students in my classroom. With that being said, I love my job. I will make it work, and because I have had COVID-19, I am happy it is not in person.
DeKalb County Schools are not permanently virtual, although they do not have a back-in-the-school-building date. DeKalb will reassess monthly. This makes sense to me: Go with the data and make sure it is in the best interest of not only our students, but the health of our families too. It is hard to not have an end date to virtual learning, but we don’t have an end date on how long this virus will be prevalent either.
Stacey Asher is a first-grade teacher at Austin Elementary School in Dunwoody.