Teachers: ‘Taking the COVID bullet’ for their students

"I’M really grateful for Dr. Levett," says Rebecca Greenbush, a science teacher at Oglethorpe Charter School, about the Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools Superintendent. 

“Her support of science has kept my family safe so far.  I am frightened to return too soon,” says Greenbush.

“Science is always hands-on, lab class and e-learning has not changed that! We just did our first lab last week and it went great! It does require parent support though, getting items like candy to make rocks, or sugar to make crystals, but so far the parents have been wonderful in supporting these types of experiences,” she says.

“Adjusting my instruction to a virtual mode of delivery has challenged me to get creative and really take a look at how to structure the class so that the student’s screen time is monitored and meaningful. 

“What I miss the most is seeing the students each day. I love seeing their faces light up when they make connections with the content. I miss listening to them tell me about their interests and dreams. I also really miss being around my fellow teachers, but I’m thankful we are safe.”

click to enlarge Teachers: ‘Taking the COVID bullet’ for their students
Micha helping Sarah with her statistics class.

Greenbush continues:

“As a teacher mom, I am really happy with the virtual experience for my two daughters as well. It was definitely challenging to get all of our schedules and live sessions down, and we made a few mistakes at first, but we are getting the hang of things now.”

Jannis Glover teaches English at Jenkins High School. “I like virtual teaching because it gives students and teachers flexibility in presentation of new concepts, and time for students to complete assignments depending on their schedules.”

Like all other teachers, Glover misses the personal connection with students.

“I value teaching the ‘whole child’ and that means sometimes giving a hug, a listening ear, and sometimes motherly advice. Random students used to stop by my class door for a hug between class changes. Those interactions are what I miss most. Emails don’t have the same effect, but it doesn’t mean I’ve stopped trying to establish those relationships. The other thing I miss is my Warrior Football! I’ve always been my team’s biggest fan, but last year I became more of a team mom.”

Glover concludes, “The caveat to all of the struggles with virtual teaching is knowing that lives are being protected from COVID-19. I’ve had to tell my students I would take a bullet to protect them when we’ve had to deal with news of school shootings  If one student, one, colleague, one staff member, or administrator has been saved from COVID-19, every inconvenience, headache, late night work, and temporary stress is worth it.”

Linda Duncan loves teaching art and social studies at Jenkins High School. “I have taught in Chatham County for 20 years, all at the same school. My colleagues are my second family. We have a compassionate, hardworking cadre of teachers, and administrators and we are all doing the best we can. I am not willing to risk the lives of my family or my second family, who are all going above and beyond the call of duty every single day.”

click to enlarge Teachers: ‘Taking the COVID bullet’ for their students
Brooklyn is in 1st grade at May Howard Elementary.

Duncan also misses seeing her students face-to-face.

“I miss the classroom environment I work so hard to create - the sense of community, playing music for my kids while they work on art projects, being able to use all of the great materials I have to do big collaborative pieces.  Teaching virtually is so hard to balance.  I want my kids to participate, to have their cameras on so I can see their faces and mics on so I can hear their voices, but I know many of them don’t want to let the whole class into their homes.  I have spent more time doing tech support than anything else so far, but we are only a month in and I have already seen a huge improvement in how the technology is working and in the number of kids who are both able and willing to participate, so I am hopeful.”

Duncan’s husband, David Westbrook, is also an experienced educator in his twentieth year, most of which have been at Jenkins High School.

“I’d much rather teach in-person, but there have been some positives with virtual teaching,” he says.

“For the first two weeks I was aiming my laptop at the board in my classroom and the kids were struggling and they couldn’t see anything and we were all frustrated and discouraged.  Then I discovered the magic of document cameras and it was like my life began again.  I know it sounds absolutely insane, but that first day with the document camera was one of the happiest days of my life.”

As does his wife, Westbrook concurs that he misses seeing his students in-person.

“The smiles as they enter the classrooms, the banter, the jokes, the facial expressions, their eyes when they get something and even when they don’t, the questions, the suggestions.  I love all of it.  I love connecting with the students.” 

He admits that there are struggles with virtual teaching and says, “We’re making the best of it.  I’m getting better and more comfortable with the technology, and the kids really do want to do well.  They’ve overall been great about communicating with me.”

click to enlarge Teachers: ‘Taking the COVID bullet’ for their students
Andyn likes to wear her slippers to pre-K.

Westbrook notes that he absolutely agrees with the decision to do virtual school.

“I’m following the recommendations of the medical professionals.  When they say it’s safe to end social distancing and protective measures, I’ll be cool with reopening,” he says.

“I know it’s difficult for a lot of people to do virtual learning, but I think putting students and staff at risk is not the answer, and I’m not willing to do it despite how much I prefer in-person.”

Taylor Walton teaches 7th grade ELA at STEM.

“I’m lucky enough to be able to work from home. I’m very happy that I get to teach and interact with students daily,” she says.

“There are plenty of frustrations with getting used to the new platform and navigating issues that come up with a whole new way of teaching and learning, but none of those frustrations outweigh the risk of opening in person and losing my colleagues or students, or having to see my students deal with preventable loss of their family members. Teachers so often see students grieving, and it isn’t a process I wish on anyone, especially my middle schoolers,” she says.

“I have been extremely impressed with so many of my students, they’re finding work arounds to do their work when the platform isn’t working, they’re communicating with me and self-advocating.  It’s really awesome to see them come together and adapt to make the most of this situation.”

Christopher Goodrich teaches 3rd grade at Southwest Elementary School.

“Distance learning is going much smoother now than it did in the spring.  Most of my kids are logging in every day and participating,” he says.

“The new program the district released has had its issues, but my kids have adapted really well!  I’m enjoying the use of technology that I’ve always wanted to use in the in person classroom, but I really miss the connection of being in class with my students,” Goodrich says.

click to enlarge Teachers: ‘Taking the COVID bullet’ for their students
Mom says that Jada (10th grade at Savannah Early College) and Jalen (4th grade at Georgetown K-8) are adjusting well

Amy Culp Jessee teaches at Islands High School.

“I like how virtual teaching has led me to try new ways to interact with and engage students in the curriculum. I like how virtual learning encourages my students to practice self-advocacy,” she says.

“I love all the ways my colleagues are supporting one another as we explore ways to teach effectively in the digital world. I miss being able to see their faces. It’s hard to gauge facial expressions and reactions from a Zoom meeting, and I really like seeing that facial feedback as I conduct my lessons. I miss doing hands-on simulations but have been exploring ways to make my virtual lessons more interactive. Teaching virtually is very challenging. I chose my career never dreaming I’d become an internet instructor.”

And the list goes on and on. Thousands of educators who would prefer to be in the classroom because they are passionate about their jobs, yet most realize that the risk is too great to them, their families, their students, their colleagues, and our community. 

They are willing to take a bullet for their students because in the age of school shootings that is what the job now requires, but in the wake of this pandemic, they do not want to be put in a situation where they are taking a “COVID bullet” home to their families, and we shouldn’t ask them to.