Schools sticking to in-person learning scramble for subs

Principals, superintendents and counselors are replacing classrooms as the surge in coronavirus infections puts even more strain on schools that were already struggling with staff shortages.

In Cincinnati, dozens of central office workers were dispatched last week to schools that were at risk of closing due to understaffing. Boston Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius tweeted that she was replacing a fifth-grade teacher.

San Francisco Superintendent Vince Matthews has called on all employees with educational credentials to take a course.

“This is the most difficult time in my 36 years as an educator,” Matthews said on a break after taking the sixth grade science teacher job on Thursday. “We are trying to educate students in the midst of a pandemic as the sands around us are constantly changing.”

Staff absences and the increase caused by the Omicron variant have driven some large districts including Atlanta, Detroit and Milwaukee. temporarily switch to virtual learning. Where schools keep the line on in-person learning, getting through the day required a holistic approach.

“It’s absolutely exhausting,” said history professor Deborah Schmidt, who was covering other courses during her planning period at McKinley Classical Leadership Academy in St. Louis. On Thursday, she was covering a physics class.

In a school year where teachers are asked to help students recover from the pandemic, some say they face overwhelming stress just trying to keep classes going.

“I had a friend who said to me, ‘You know, three weeks ago we were closing our doors again because of the school shootings, and now we are opening the window for COVID. “It’s really a bit too much,” said Meghan Hatch-Geary, an English teacher at Woodland Regional High School in Connecticut. “This year, trying to fix everything, trying to be everything for everyone, is getting more and more exhausting all the time.”

Union tensions were highest in Chicago, where classes have been canceled after the teachers’ union voted to deny in-person teaching, but union leaders in many school systems are calling for more flexibility on virtual learning, additional testing and other protections against the virus.

In New Haven, Connecticut, where hundreds of teachers had gone out every day last week, administrators helped cover classrooms. When her classroom assistant did not show up for work on Wednesday, special education teacher Jennifer Graves borrowed paraprofessionals from other classrooms for short periods to spend the day at Dr. Reginald Mayo School. Early Childhood School – a difficult and confusing arrangement for its young students. with disabilities.

“It’s very difficult to finish my lesson plans when someone doesn’t know your students, when someone isn’t used to working with students with disabilities,” Graves said. “Some students need sensory input, some students need to be spoon fed. It is therefore very difficult to train someone on site.

Even before infection rates took off during the holidays, many districts struggled to maintain their workforce, especially among substitutes and other lower-paying positions. As a result, teachers were dispersed for months, said Becky Pringle, chair of the National Education Assn.

“All of that extra burden and stress besides being worried about getting sick, besides being stressed like we all are after a two-year pandemic…” Pringle said in an interview.

Some administrators have already been helping classrooms and cafeterias replace sick and quarantined staff for months.

“We’re not in love with the circumstances, but we’re happy to do the job because the work makes sure we’re there for our kids,” said Mike Cornell, principal of the Hamburg Central School District in New York City. , who spent time in the cafeteria this fall stuffing straws into juice sachets and removing lids on chips to fill staffing gaps.

In San Francisco, 600 of the district’s 3,600 teachers were absent Thursday. Even with administrators, curriculum designers and teacher coaches, there weren’t enough substitutes to cover all the classrooms and some classes had to be combined, said Matthews, the superintendent.

Among the schools that went virtual last week due to a staff shortage was second-grade teacher Anna Tarka-DiNunzio’s school of about 200 students in Pittsburgh. Some taught their students while they were sick with the virus, said Tarka-DiNunzio, who was disappointed to hear some characterize staff shortages as the result of the arbitrary termination of teachers.

“It’s not just people calling. These are people who are sick or have sick family members, ”she said.

The pressures on schools could be even more difficult if large numbers of students were not themselves absent. In New Haven, teachers say classes were only half full.

Jonathan Berryman, a music teacher, said some of his students haven’t shown up for weeks. He is concerned about what this will mean for the performance goals set for students and their teachers.

“Before Omicron arrived, the navigation was pretty smooth. Now the ship has been rocked, ”he said. “We can make mid-year adjustments to our appraisal system. And some, I’m sure, wonder if we should even care about this element of academic advancement. ”

Graves, who is in her 12th year of teaching in New Haven, said she was grateful to the administrators who helped in the classrooms and the helpers who participated, but her students struggled to do so. faced with the lack of consistency in staff.

She was also frustrated by the rapidly changing health protocols and worried about her health and that of her extended family. Most of its young students cannot tolerate wearing masks for long periods of time, and many have been coughing lately.

“This is the most difficult year I have had,” she said.

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