New York City High School Teachers Face the Challenges of Returning to In-Person Learning

For more than a year, Brian Sebastian, a high school and high school Latin and philosophy teacher, has been teaching his classes remotely from his cramped New York apartment. Grace Church School in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood for the first time, to teach its students in person.

“I’ve really hit the limit of how much I can support my students from this distance,” he said. “There is only so much I can do from my living room and there is only so much they can do from their bedrooms.” Sebastian, 45, is one of thousands of teachers now returning to the classroom. On March 22, New York City public high schools reopened for in-person learning after months of closures. The city’s 488 high schools are the latest category in the nation’s largest school district to reopen. “A lot of educators are really eager to get back into the classroom; they didn’t sign up for this profession to teach at a distance,” said Paula White, executive director of the teacher advocacy organization Educators for Excellence (E4E). New York. The decision follows a federal campaign to make schools safe for teachers and students again. The $ 1.9 trillion COVID aid package approved in Washington includes $ 10 billion for schools to expand their testing. Meanwhile, on March 2, President Biden stated that he wanted all members of the school’s staff to “receive at least one injection by the end of March.” The Empire State has led the way. “New York did a good job in terms of prioritizing educators for the COVID-19 vaccine. While in other states they were in the third or fourth group of eligible people, in New York they were in the second group, ”Ms. White said. “Certainly teachers who are eligible have had an easier time in New York than almost any other state in the country.” As such, teachers “are cautiously optimistic about going back to schools en masse,” he said. For Sebastián, who received his second dose of vaccine at the end of March, the extra level of protection is “what I was waiting for. Like, okay, now it‘s safe enough for me to go back. ”However, returning to the classroom poses its own challenges, largely due to the hybrid learning system, which means that some students will travel to school while others will remain. Some 55,000 high school students returned for in-person learning on March 22. That equates to just under 20% of the city’s high school population of 282,000. “I’ve gotten used to teaching remotely.” Sebastian said. “In a way, it‘s simpler because I see my whole class through the same medium. But when I teach in person again, I’m going to be juggling two different mediums at the same time: half of my students are there, and I’ll still be in front of my laptop dealing with the other students at the same time. “Sebastian thinks it will be worth it. One skill “teachers try to instill in students is how to advocate for themselves,” he says. “If I’m not in person, I can’t do it very well, if all the teachers are at a distance, [students] you are not working that muscle. That’s something that has really been lost over the last year. “Attention deficit Teachers report that student engagement has also suffered. In a national survey published by E4E in February, more than half of all teachers Grades and types of schools reported that student participation, attendance and learning were worse than before the pandemic. More CityWatch: Broadway gets an opportunity to reopen safely in September. That has been the case particularly for students from less privileged backgrounds, which may have lacked parental support or appropriate technology, and for those with special needs. “Teachers are becoming very concerned, and rightly so, about inequalities … [that] it may have been exacerbated by virtual learning, ”White said. “Teachers are concerned about how they are going to meet the needs of those students and how wide the gap will be.” Facing new pressures and fears For some teachers, who are also dealing with their own stress from prolonged periods of isolation, the pressure has been too much. According to data from the New York City Teacher Retirement System, New York City teachers who announced their retirement last September increased 28% compared to the same month last year. A nationwide survey of educators by the National Education Association last August found that 28% of teachers said the pandemic would make them more likely to quit teaching altogether or retire early. CJ Holm, a dance teacher at the Brooklyn PS K721 Occupational Training Center, has no such plans. But, he says, the last year has been “stressful.” Holm, who works at a school for children and young adults with special needs ranging from autism to Down syndrome, has spent the last year teaching both in person and online. To protect yourself, buy your own medical grade masks and face shields. When he gets home, he practices a decontamination procedure: putting his clothes directly in the laundry room and showering before touching anything. However, Holm recently discovered that a student in her class had tested positive for COVID-19. This led to the closure of the classroom and, a week later, when another case was discovered, the closure of the school. “That classroom is a high-support classroom. Students are encouraged to wear masks, but their wearing of masks is imperfect and their detachment is non-existent, ”he said. “It was a rude awakening… I don’t want them to expose each other. I don’t want anyone to get sick. “See also: Don’t be surprised: COVID-era crime anxiety has sparked TASER sales Despite this, Holm believes that last year’s learning curve, while steep, has provided some positives. For the first time, she is using the school’s outdoor playground for classes, a space that she intends to continue to use after the pandemic is over, given that, as she puts it, “some of the kids in our city don’t have time outside. ”And, for those kids still learning online, she’s found her classes have had more reach.“ We have kids from other schools who sit with their siblings when we dance. students from years gone by who come to my classes, “she says, noting that sometimes even parents get together.” Families are stressed. For some dance classes it’s family time. ” This year, the school will present a musical production of “The Phantom Tollbooth”, working with students both in person and remotely. Teachers will merge a live program with recordings. Educators predict New York schools won’t fully convert to full face-to-face learning again until the fall of 2021. For Holm, the musical, meanwhile, is a way to reach more kids. “It’s very nice to see them smile,” he says. 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