HEIDI SCHAFFNER is a second grade teacher at West Chatham Elementary. With over 27 years of teaching, in both public and private schools, she’s working from home to connect with her students, but hasn’t made contact with all of them.
This is her Quarantine Chronicle.
How are you handling this time at home?
It’s hard. I bought a bike, so I’m riding around the neighborhood. I do a Zoom call every day with my kids to connect in my classroom, and those are good, but they’re also hard because I know not everybody’s on them. I wonder about those kids who aren’t and what’s happening for them at home, and what support they’re getting.
I’m a homebody anyway, so in some ways, it’s not really different from what I would do if I were home for an extended weekend. It’s just a very extended weekend.
What’s it like working from home?
It’s hard. A friend of mine who’s worked from home forever said, “Make sure you change your clothes.” Nothing productive ever really gets done in sweatpants. You can spend your day in sweatpants and get things done, but you never end the day feeling like you’ve just done it.
What helped me, too, is the first couple days of school I was glued to my computer. I had my laptop on my lap on my sofa and I was there from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Everybody’s like, “Oh, at least you can pee when you want and have lunch when you want, because you’re at home!” I was like, ha, no. It’s calmed down some, but I was like, I have to disconnect from it at some point.
I cleaned off my desk and made a workspace, and knowing my work is done at my desk, and when I sit at my sofa, that’s my off time, that has made a big difference in my mental state of not feeling like I was working the entire day. I’ll still answer parent messages when they’re frantic.
I’ve connected with everybody in my class, which makes me happy, but there’s still some that I worry about because I don’t hear from them through the communication tool we use.
How many kids do you have that you can’t get in touch with?
Most of them now have access. A lot of them picked up Chromebooks from the district last week. I’ve been able to contact all of my 23 students.
We just did a whole grade-level Zoom meeting where we had 60 kids on, out of 100-something. We’re getting 50% really showing up. I think the most I’ve had in a Zoom meeting is 7 out of my 23, but I do have kids who have parents who are essential workers.
My school hours—even though the district says you’re 8:30 to 4:30—many of my parents I can’t get in touch with until 6, 7, 8 o’clock at night.
I know it’s nitpicky to complain about that—I do have a job, I’m lucky. But it’s not where I want to be. A colleague of mine asked, “How do you like your vacation?” Dude, this is not a vacation.
It’s interesting now that parents are seeing what it’s like —
And they don’t even really see what it’s like. I think sometimes it’s harder for one than it is for 23. They’re not in their learning space; they come to school and know to turn on the switch and it’s the place to learn. I have kids on my Zoom call playing Minecraft on their TV.
They miss their friends. For some of them, they miss their safe place. They miss a place where they’re not having to do chores or help care for younger brothers and sisters, or where they get meals.
Thankfully, the school system is still putting out the meals, so there’s that. But there are still people who don’t have access to it because parents are working.
I’ve been trying so hard to tell my parents, do what you can. People have seen it everywhere, but this is not homeschooling. People who homeschool researched it, they have a curriculum they go by.
This is crisis education, this is not homeschooling, and the most important thing in all of this is everybody’s emotional wellbeing. I feel like the Board of Education really validated that with their decision that these grades will not count against anyone.
What we’re worried about as teachers is parents are going to see that and just stop. I want my parents to relax, I want them to not stress about this, but I also want them to keep the kids in school and keep them engaged.
A lot of people are calling teachers heroes now, which is completely fair. How can they support you as well?
If they have kids, just making sure their kids connect with the school. But hold this in your brain when they ask for an ESPLOST. Hold this in your brain when you’re complaining about property tax, and remember that property tax is what pays for school. Hold this in your brain when you’re asked to fill out the census, because we get funding from the federal government by people who fill it out.
Maybe you don’t have kids, but when you don’t put money into education, you’re building an uneducated future, and we are all starting to see what happens to us with that lack of education. We’re seeing people who don’t have knowledge in certain areas—it’s all over the country.
That’s what I want people to take out of this. I want them to remember the way they feel now—“Oh, teachers don’t make enough.” I want them to remember that in the fall.
I want them to remember that every time they vote for something that has anything to do with education.
I want them to remember it when they’re shopping with that list of supplies, knowing that them buying that one list means that that teacher isn’t spending their rent money or second job money on supplies for their kid that they’re like, “Eh, they’ll have that at school.” No, we don’t get that.
The best way to support teachers is to keep all this in mind and be there to fund things. “I don’t want to pay your salary.” Great. How about paying for the future of our nation, so that we can have future doctors if this comes around again?