As Georgetown ISD (GISD) hurdles a harrowing reopening now typical throughout the country, four high school teachers told The Texan that the district’s recent spate of resignations will strain the classroom more than pandemic restrictions.
Citing COVID-19 fears, 18 teachers recently resigned from GISD. The district remains optimistic, with spokesperson Melinda Brasher stating in an email that the resignations didn’t catch the school off guard.
“We had fewer teachers leave this summer than during a ‘typical’ year,” Brasher stated Thursday. “Today was our first day of instruction and we had 944 teachers excited to connect with our students after many months apart.”
While teachers praised administrators for best navigating the reopening, they called it inevitably unpredictable and held concerns about the ripples the resignations will make in the classroom. The district’s plan is to hold classes online for a three week period which began August 20 and then allow students optionally to attend in-person beginning September 10.
Teachers gave varying estimates as to how many students would return to their classrooms, from 33 percent to 60 percent.
One social studies teacher at East View High School applauded principal Latoya Easter but said the bipartite strategy of online and classroom learning will stretch her abilities as a teacher.
“We have a really great principal here, and she is working her butt off trying to establish some kind of stability, but it’s just overwhelming. There are so many unknowns,” she said. “Personally, I think we should be virtual the [whole] first semester… I’m not complaining, I love teaching… but we are having to take a double of the load that we usually take care of.”
She went on to say that certain protocols for in-person learning, which many parents never learned, will be impossible to enforce.
“We’ve been instructed to put 24 desks in our room at six feet apart and my room doesn’t have enough room to do that… Parents don’t even know what it’s going to look like when the kids get to school, which was very concerning to me because I thought they had been told,” she said. “This is high school. We struggle with telling students not to wear hats. I’m going to have to be mandating all those different protocols in class and not really going to be able to educate like I should be able to.”
Other teachers found the three-week online period and optional physical return to be the best strategy for reopening. The Texan asked another East View teacher, who teaches a hands-on elective, if allowing students to stay home would make his job easier.
“Oh, hell yeah,” he said. “Fifteen kids? I could do fifteen kids standing on my head.”
However, because of the seasonal nature of teaching contracts, he speculates that filling the last-minute void left by the teachers who resigned can hurt the quality of the students’ education.
“You’re not going to get a high-quality candidate this late,” he said. “I’m not going to say everybody’s bad that gets hired this late, but… hiring someone August 25th is going to be a teacher who did not have a job probably, and there must be a reason they didn’t have a job. You’re not exactly getting the cream of the crop.”
One special education teacher at Georgetown High School, who said he approved of the existing reopening plan, said the last-minute resignations can also cut relationships between teachers and students that are especially important in his department.
“Some of these teachers have the same kids every year. It’s not like how you have a new math teacher your sophomore year, another your junior year,” he said. “Turnover upsets the relationships with the students, who really need a kind of consistency.”
One career and technical education (CTE) teacher at East View called the current system “pretty efficient” but said the question of reopening can be knotty because of the different home lives of teachers.
“I think it’s tough because I think it depends on what people’s situations are at home, whether they’re taking care of elderly family members or they’re single,” he said. “I would say that your younger single teachers who are on their own… are probably going to be more for coming back. I would say your elderly teachers are a little bit more concerned about getting sick.”
In addition to replacing the resigned teachers with last-minute hires, many of their students will have to be redistributed into other classes, making those classes bigger and harder to manage, the social studies teacher explained.
“That’s when we have overloads,” she said. “I mean, I’ve had to teach overages [in the past] where… we don’t have enough staff because we’ve had people leave.”
The regular difficulty of managing overages will be compounded this year by health protocols, namely limiting the number of students per class.
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