Throughout the summer, Mainers have struggled over the decision of whether or not to send kids back to school. As part of Maine Public’s Deep Dive: Coronavirus project, we spoke with a number of teachers, including English and design thinking teacher Kate Meyer. She works at Mount Desert High School, which will start the year remotely, as it tries to assess the potential fallout from the tourist season before transitioning to a hybrid model September 28.
But even that approach, Meyer says, leaves her wary:
"The spring was crisis teaching. We all have our own families, and we all had our own issues with the pandemic, especially at the beginning, as did our students, and as did their families.
"My whole style of teaching and everything that I know from my 20 years in this career to be good education — it’s not what is going to be happening in the classroom. I have a big concern that parents don't understand that, and that students don't understand that. That they want to come back to school, and they want everything to be normal, and they want to hang out with their friends, and that is not what it is going to be at all. We'll be trying to get kids in and out of that building as quickly as possible. They will be stuck at their desks, they're going to be doing their learning on a laptop, even if they're right in front of me in the classroom. The only thing is that they'll then have the added risk of sitting in my classroom in a group, doing the same work that their peers can do remotely.
"When I teach argumentative writing, I spend the day with all these great argumentative topics. I'll give my students a topic that they will feel strongly about, right? Then they'll move to one of the corners in the room. Do they agree, disagree, partially agree, partially disagree? And we'll stand together in groups, and in different corners of the room, and they'll share their arguments with each other. And it turns into these kind of lively mini-debates as a way to prepare for writing their argumentative essays. And there's a ton of movement and a ton of laughter and a ton of students talking to each other. That's an activity I will not be doing this year.
"Teachers do a lot more than plan and teach classes. And so, how do we fit everything that we do, how do I plan every single class three different ways? And still have the time to give my students all of the feedback on their work that they deserve?
"My husband and I have really lived very healthy lifestyles, and so we've been very lucky in that sense. We are not in high risk categories. But my mother-in-law is. And so what does that mean, in terms of how often we get to see her? We're basically the only people that she has. And so if we have to remove ourselves from her life, who takes care of her? Do I need to come home and try to quarantine myself from my husband so that he can still go care for his mother, or, you know, do I risk getting him sick, and then maybe neither of us can go care for her? So that is really stressful.
"It's also stressful because I have colleagues who are in high risk categories. And it's really concerning that they are going to basically be forced to put their health and safety at risk and come into the building there. There are not a lot of options. The people who have the means can take a leave of absence for a year that's unpaid. I think we will see almost a mass exodus from the field of education from people who can do that. So that's one of the things that was offered to us — if you would like to take a leave of absence, unpaid for a year, then that's what that's your option. Or retire, or some people will be protected under the ADA and will be able to have accommodations, but I think we are going to see people who have the means and the ability, we're going to see them leave if we go to face to face education."
This piece was produced by Willis Ryder Arnold, with reporting from Robbie Feinberg. You can find more coverage on COVID-19 and school reopenings here.