Nearly a year into the pandemic teachers across the country are tired and stressed out, but at the same time, they’re hopeful for the future, as one of the most challenging years in education continues to play out from coast-to-coast.
At Algonquin Regional High School in Northboro, Massachusetts, lifelong educators Jane Betar and Tom Alera can both be seen between class periods spraying down desks with sanitizer. They are doing whatever they can to keep themselves and their students safe from COVID-19. Five months into the school year, their students know the routine: masks up during class, desks stay 6 feet apart and the windows stay open to help with the airflow.
“It’s the same teaching as I’ve always done, but it really did seem like a change in job overnight,” English teacher Jane Betar explained.
Betar has been a teacher at this high school for more than two decades. She has two teenagers herself, and while she’s thankful to be in school, the one-way hallways, social-distancing guidelines, and mask-wearing have dramatically changed things.
"They aren’t as engaged. Your classroom doesn’t have that chemistry and that fun environment," Betar said.
Like so many other teachers and parents across the country, Betar says she just feels exhausted at the end of most days. Grading papers and providing substantive feedback for students often feel like a daunting task by the time the school day ends.
“I’m not being the teacher I want to be,” she lamented.
Her colleague and fellow English teacher, Tom Alera, shares similar sentiments. He struggles to see students’ facial expressions behind their masks and is often afraid to move around his classroom to connect with students for fear of inadvertently catching the virus.
“That closeness is missing. I can’t see if they’re smiling or laughing. It’s stressful in the sense that it’s hard to do what we need to do for these kids sometimes,” Alera said.
Students at this high school are mostly operating on a hybrid schedule. It’s impossible to maintain social-distancing guidelines, while at the same time packing 25 students into a classroom.
On Mondays, the entire school works remotely. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, one cohort of students comes into the building, and on Wednesdays and Fridays, another group of students is here in the building for the classes.
The staggered schedule seems to be working. COVID-19 cases connected to school have been relatively low in this district in the central part of Massachusetts.
Teachers appreciate the smaller class sizes, but Jane Betar says something is missing.
“You don’t see the kids as much. You can’t know your students well; there’s this weird awkwardness that I think everyone is feeling,” Betar said.
As a mom of teenagers herself, Betar’s biggest concern almost a year into the pandemic isn’t for herself, but for her students.
“I’m just worried that lack of life and engagement and interaction has really impacted these kids, and for some kids, I’m worried it’s going to stick.”
But both of these educators are grateful to be back in their classroom doing what they love, even if they’ve had to adjust some expectations.
“We’re working really hard and we know there is an end in sight, and that helps.”