Talk on the Rock: Teachers on Returning to School

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Editor in Chief Annika Bhananker asked MIHS teachers and staff their thoughts on returning to school, March 22, to help the MI community hear different perspectives on reopening.

All responses remain anonymous. Selected responses are not necessarily representative of all MIHS teachers.

Are you returning to school?

“Yes. I feel like it is my responsibility to do what is best for my students’ well-being. Also, neither I nor my family have any health concerns that would preclude me from returning.”


“Yes. For most teachers/staff, it’s really the only option. Now that everyone is getting access to vaccines, I feel a lot more comfortable regarding the risk to teachers/staff…although I am still very concerned about the risks to students (who are basically unvaccinated adults).”

“Yes. I will be fully vaccinated on March 26. This was my primary concern.”

“Yes. Students need to get back into live in person school.”

“Yes — I will be double vaccinated one week before returning.”

“Yes- I want to support my students as best I can.”

On Gov. Inslee’s recent changes to vaccine eligibility for teachers:

“Yes! Finding a vaccine is very complicated–way more complicated than it should be. If you’ve ever tried to score concert tickets to a show that is guaranteed to sell out, it’s kind of like that. The good news is that we have a great department of folks trying to help each other out. But, it’s pretty disheartening and frustrating to see how scattered the system is. For those without great internet access or the know-how to really navigate all the sites and tools, it has proven to be a huge, huge challenge nationwide.”

“I am grateful to be able to get vaccinated. Before Inslee was directed to prioritize teachers, I scrambled to get on multiple waitlists. I was signed up in Monroe, Kent, Tacoma, and a tribal clinic. I have a type of bone marrow cancer that puts me in the highest-risk group for covid, so I wanted to ensure I was vaccinated before returning to school. Getting vaccinated definitely changed my stance on returning to school- I resented that I was asked to put my health/life at risk before being fully vaccinated.”

“I received my first vaccination last Friday, March 5. I had to drive to Tacoma for an appointment at 6:40 am. Many of us had to scramble all over Western Washington to find a time and place. Having the first dose before I go back gives me some comfort, but I know I’ll have to take serious precautions to keep myself and others safe.”

“Yes- I had put myself on a number of waitlists and reached out to clinics near me. I didn’t try to make a sob story of it, but asked if I could be called if they had no-shows or last minute cancellations. Getting vaccinated made a huge difference in my comfort level in returning to school. Originally, I thought that I would have to self-isolate because we were called back, but now I feel better knowing that I will not likely get my family sick from my job.”

“Yes! Receiving my second one next week. And yes– being vaccinated absolutely influenced my decision. I thought I would have to take an extended leave through the semester.”

What concerns do you still have– as a teacher, for the community/your students, for your family– in terms of going back to school?

“Students who are making risky moves because they think that they are not touchable.”

“I worry about statistics catching up to the students are their family members. People are still dying from COVID.”

“I’m most concerned that our hybrid model is not just inequitable, but it’s unequal. There’s no way to make an experiential class equal for those who are streaming. Block schedules every day will be a bit intense, and streaming students will have a difficult time staying engaged. I’ll offer a lot of independent work time during class periods, but I don’t know how to equally serve students in this model. We’re also losing academic days with this schedule shift, which will negatively impact my AP and advanced classes. I’m also worried about students eating lunch together, and potentially bringing covid home to their families as a result of this.”

“I worry about coming home and giving the virus to my un-vaccinated family members.”

“My concern is the inherent inequities in hybrid learning. I will try my best, but I just don’t know how I can teach to all cohorts equally.”

It has taken me (the teacher) so long to figure out how to maneuver my way through this digital world. At the start of the year, I was barely one day ahead of the students, and now I can safely say I am one week ahead, which is great. But now I am being asked to learn how to teach two groups of students concurrently WHILE still teaching. I haven’t had any time to even consider how to teach hybrid. I always work over time, and if I took the time to learn how to do it now, I would be pulling all nighters. So instead, I’ll just figure it out as I go. Fingers crossed.”

“How to engage and teach the students joining remotely, without having them just watch a classroom on a screen. my priority will be building community and learning with the students in person. so creating great remote lessons will be double the work load.”

“Teaching students online and in-person at the same time seems insane. It will harm academic learning and be inequitable for students who cannot come to campus. Technological obstacles prevent this from working better than remote learning. It would be best to stay full remote until the fall.”

“Scheduling. The district schedule assumes that every family (especially those of younger students in elementary and middle school), can adjust their work schedules to arrange for childcare, pickup, drop off, etc. It may work great for families of professionals who have the ability to write their own schedules, zoom into a meeting, pop out of their responsibilities for a bit to pick their kids up, etc….but for many (and for most of the world out there), that’s not the reality of their employment. Rotating schedules, middle-of-the-day pickups, etc. assumes a lot about a family being able to make that work.”

What else do you want to share with the MI community about these times?

“We are in this together. Teachers want to teach, and I think we did a great job teaching online. With vaccinations, we are all coming back in person.”

“While I want to return to school safely, this has been one of the most anxiety-inducing experiences for me. Knowing that I could die if I contract covid and being asked to go back to school regardless of this, and trying to create an equitable model of teaching while also creating in this online model is laughable. I hate that returning to in-person school has been politicized at school. And what do we end up with? An unequal sub-par model of teaching, for students to be in-person once a week in my class, other streaming and missing out, dealing with a complicated litany of tech issues, and all for about 9 weeks of school. Many colleagues want to leave the district now– amazing teachers who will leave holes in our school community. My friends in other districts and states are shocked that we’re upending our current model and being forced to return. My students mean the world to me, and I invest many hours every day working on creating engaging instruction, and letting my students know I love them and care deeply about their academics and well-being. But this change excludes many students, puts their families at risk, and diminishes our instruction.”

“We are all doing our best but nothing about this last year is ideal. I hope we can give ourselves and others a “pass” while we look to the possibilities of next year.”

“That we teachers have been working incredibly hard. We know that this has been detrimental to many students. We know that their mental health has been impacted, but so has ours. Understand that many of us have not been doing okay.”

“I know there are parents (and perhaps admin) out there who believe teachers have been lazy this year, or that we have behaved as though we have been on a year long spring break. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can tell you that’s the furthest from the truth. I have been so stressed this year, and worked long hours (longer than when we are in school, and I already work long hours) to make sure my students are receiving an education. I am tired and burnt out. This is the first time in my 16 years of teaching where I actually considered quitting this career… and it’s not because of the students. It’s because of the unreasonable expectations and extra work placed on us my members of the district and community.”

“A positive mindset, creative solutions, and gratitude for everyone doing their best (in a new situation with no perfect or easy answers) is SO important!”

“I LOVE working at Mercer Island High School. I LOVE the students. I LOVE their parents. I LOVE my colleagues. MIHS is a GREAT place to be.”

“That mainly, remote teaching (while not ideal) was definitely working for most students. There is a big worry that hybrid teaching (with all of its limitations and demands) might actually slow things down and make it more difficult to deliver content and make sure students have the skills they need to be successful. The social/emotional side of bringing students back into the classroom may very well be worth it, but skills/learning/content might actually suffer a bit…which is probably OK.”