Teachers in Montgomery County, Maryland, said they’re hoping to receive the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to the classroom, while the school system is asking retirees to help fill in once schools reopen.
One Montgomery County teacher, who spoke to WTOP on the condition that his name not be used, said he’s eager to get back in the classroom. However, he has been unable to secure a vaccine appointment, and his wife’s medical condition makes him very wary about heading back to school.
His wife is a cancer survivor and has gone through four bouts of the disease, the most recent one last summer.
As a teacher, he said it’s always preferable to be in front of the classroom with students. And he’s willing to quarantine to do it, while waiting to get appointments for him and his wife.
“I’ll live in my house’s basement because I want to go back that badly,” he said. “But I’m not going to expose my wife to a potentially deadly disease.”
He is worried that without getting vaccinated, the risks would be much greater.
As a veteran teacher, he said he’s angered by allegations that teachers are looking for ways to stay out of the classroom.
“It really upsets me, frankly, the people who claim that teachers are lazy, and just ‘union thugs’ and we’re just finding excuses to not go back,” he said.
Referring to his own situation with a cancer survivor in the household, he said, “This is the kind of individual situation that I think people don’t understand.”
“We really want to be back in the classroom,” he said, “This is hard. This is hard for the kids and it’s really hard for the staff.”
But the concerns about being able to avoid contracting the coronavirus does pose a serious issue for teachers, he said.
He also said he conducted a poll of his colleagues to gauge their concerns about a return to the classroom. Of the 85 responses he got, he said about one-third of respondents said they would consider retiring early, taking leave or quitting the profession.
“I don’t know if those numbers will hold, people make decisions based on a moment,” he said. But if there is a large number that leaves the system, he said it’s not clear to him how the school system could fill those slots.
Montgomery County’s Board of Education has outlined some of its back-to-school plans that include having students return in phases and having a limited number in the classroom at any one time. That would mean a likely combination of in-person learning for some, and virtual learning for others, often simultaneously.
On its website, the county provided a guide to the current plans and said, “Please note that schools will use a combination of direct instruction, simultaneous instruction and support to virtual instructional models to fully support instruction both for in-person and virtual-based students.
Students will work closely with teachers, support staff and administrators just as they did before the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In order to do that, the school system has placed ads for “monitors” and has put out calls to retired teachers to see if they’d be willing to come into the schools to support in-school learning. The idea has already been criticized by some parents as nothing more than glorified babysitting.
While the teacher who spoke to WTOP anonymously is critical of the combination of simultaneous instruction, he’s also sympathetic to the difficulty of trying to design schools to operate in ways they weren’t designed to, and to provide instruction in a way that will work to try to meet the needs of students and satisfy parental concerns.
At his Montgomery County school, administrators and staff are being flexible and creative.
“They’re really working very hard to try to make this as doable as possible,” he said.
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