Making sacrifices: Teachers risking their safety to teach during COVID-19

permission to print image: Gale

Many aspects of life changed when COVID-19 began to spread. Among the many, students and teachers were left wondering about their education and jobs. As the new school year crept around the corner, everyone was left scrambling for answers and ways to return safely.

Many teachers were apprehensive about returning to school, especially after being out for so long.

“I wasn’t surprised we were returning on a hybrid schedule, but definitely a bit nervous. We haven’t been around that many people in months, so it was overwhelming to think about having students again,” English teacher Elizabeth Stringer said.

However, while the plan of returning was overwhelming for some teachers, many were also ready to begin teaching again.

“I was relieved that I would get to see most of my students in one way or another. I was especially glad to be able to interact with my freshmen who need more time to become acclimated to the high school and the expectations that come with it,” Spanish teacher Alexandra Tony said.

Going months without a normal amount of human interaction, especially after being a teacher and seeing hundreds of children on a daily basis, made finding a way to fill that time productively is essential.

“While in quarantine, I ran, walked my dog and did anything that let me be outside,” Stringer said.

Many teachers had assumed virtual learning would continue this year, so they were stressed changing their whole learning style.

“In the beginning, I was swamped trying to figure out the best method to distribute work virtually to students,” Tony said. “Once I got into a routine, in my free time I began trying to propagate and grow succulents since I’m usually a plant-killer. Being out in nature is very therapeutic for me. My husband and I are outdoor people, so we were able to spend our free time on regular hikes and camping.”

Among the many sacrifices that teachers have had to make, their lifestyles had to change for their own safety and their families.

“We are definitely a bit more secluded. Even before I went to school, we weren’t going to restaurants or gathering in crowds, but we did spend time with friends and family. We have decreased how often we see people outside of our household quite a bit,” said Stringer

“Since we still aren’t sure how long the virus can last on surfaces, I try to be overly cautious. I wash the clothes I wear to school every day and make sure to shower before touching other surfaces in my home,” Tony said. “I consider my car ‘contaminated’, so if my husband and I have to go somewhere, we take his car. If I visit my parents, grandparents or other relatives, I make sure we are outdoors and at a distance since I don’t want to put them at risk.”

Luckily, Olentangy Schools have done the best they can to accommodate the requests of teachers.

“I greatly appreciated the fact they took the time to survey the parents and the staff members to see what was important to them when returning. I was most concerned about air circulation, so the fact they installed special filters in the air ducts made me feel more comfortable. Giving us masks, face shields, glasses and the plastic dividers coupled with the cleaning materials does make me feel a lot better about teaching in person,” Tony said.

While Olentangy is trying their best to accommodate teachers, students also need to do their part in making sure their teachers feel safe and comfortable as they are trying to continue students’ education.

“Students have been really good at wearing their masks the right way, so I’m thankful for that. Coughing and sneezing into the arm instead of to the side is something I think would help, since I worry about the students sitting nearby. Otherwise, my biggest request is to wash your hands after using the restroom and before eating food,” Tony said.

“Following protocol is a small part of it,” Stringer said. “The bigger thing for me is when students talk to me, ask me questions and help me feel more normal. Some of my classes are so quiet this year, that it is easy to feel like the Hybrid schedule isn’t working. But when I have classes that are engaged and excited, it makes it feel worth it.”

To be a teacher this year, is a brave and honorary title. To put their students’ education before some of their safety is a difficult task to ask. Teachers like Stringer, Tony and so many more deserve a heartfelt thank you for all they’ve done to continue students’ education and basic way of life.