Teachers express concerns about returning to classrooms for in-person instruction

MEDFORD, Ore. — Teachers have their own concerns with returning to the classroom this fall during the pandemic. While some are excited to get back on campus others worry about their physical and mental health.

“A lot of teachers are rewriting their wills,” Portland teacher, Ian Maurer said. “This is a very serious thing.”

COVID-19 has made educators take a hard look at whether to continue their careers in teaching. With so many what if’s and big questions still unanswered, teachers are only a month away from going to classrooms.

“It’s very hard to plan when you don’t know what you’re going to do, and just a matter of weeks.

In southern Oregon with lower cases of coronavirus, the Medford Education Association said it wants to return to school in the fall.

“It’s still changing every day we think one thing one day and the next day it changes, but we’re trying to get as many kids in the building learning as we can,” Medford Education Association President, Troy Pomeroy said.

While in-person school is recommended for students nationwide, many educators worry it can’t be done safely. Over 12,000 Oregon educators and school staff have now joined a Facebook group calling for a “Safe Return to Campus Statewide”.

“14 days of no new cases in a county ensures that it’s safe for students to come back for face-to-face instruction,” Maurer said. “A lot of times in schools, we set a date. We say we’re going to start school on September the ninth, but the virus doesn’t care what your calendar is.”

The governor providing some answers for teachers and parents in a Tuesday press conference. She said in order for in-person learning to occur, each county needs to be under ten cases per 100,000 people for the preceding seven days.

“I want to be really clear that our highest priority is to open our schools to in-person instruction for our students,” Oregon Department of Education Director, Colt Gill said.

Educators still worry, this year will be different.

“The school of the past is not what they would be coming back to,” Maurer said.

Ian Maurer from Portland’s Cleveland high school said mental health for everyone is a huge concern.

“It would be dramatic for a student to return to a school and then have it shut down or even worse, have a peer or a teacher gets sick and pass away,” Maurer said.

Districts said they’re working to make it safer for staff to return in the fall, but navigating the unpredictable is no easy feat.

“There’s a lot of little details that honestly no one knows the answer to but we’re working on,” Pomeroy said.

With teachers statewide left wondering about their health and safety if they do return to in-person learning, some are taking it upon themselves to educate kids this fall from the safety of their own homes.

“I’m choosing to instead evolve with the education system,” Crystal Lucas said.

Medford charter school teacher Crystal Lucas said the pandemic is opening new doors for her as an educator. Lucas said she was let go by Medford’s Kids Unlimited Academy this year as the school restructured to meet the needs of the pandemic.

Now she’s restructuring her own ideas of education to try a different approach to schooling.

“There have been home school co-ops for as long as there’s been traditional school,” Lucas said. “It just now is on the mind and in the faces of everyday parents.”

She said she believes the added struggles of teaching during this pandemic could cause issues for students in these new types of classrooms.

“If we have students six feet apart and I have 28 students, and I’m at the front of the class are the students in the back of the class who are 6×28 feet away,” Lucas said. “They are very, very far from the instructor, are they going to hear me?”

Lucas said she thinks more families and maybe even some teachers will make the switch to homeschooling because it may be a more viable option today.

“When they do make the decision that the traditional classroom environment is safe and they choose to go back that they are on grade level or even above grade level,” Lucas said.

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