September 27th, 2019
Health prioritized as teachers head all-online
THURS. | 10-1-20 | FEATURES
While many students have made the switch to all-online learning this year, most Rose teachers are still teaching in-person. Three however, have decided to teach online for health reasons following the Pitt County School Board’s decision to allow for both in-person and virtual learning for students.
Science teacher Robert Miller was the first to make the switch. He made the decision to teach online far before school started this year, and immediately began contacting the school board about his concerns as to how the school would proceed.
“What [the board based] their decision on is not factual science in any way, shape or form,”
Graphic by Tierney Reardon
Miller said. “It’s not safe for the public, it’s not safe for the students [and] it's not safe for the teachers.”
Following negative responses from school board members and the initial decision that teachers would either have to teach in-person or quit, Miller said that he would either teach online or quit, despite his 19 years of teaching experience.
“It wasn’t an ultimatum, it was my option,” Miller said. “If I were to contract COVID, I would be one of those people that have eleventeen underlying conditions that would suffer the worst experience you can have with it, which unfortunately in many cases is terminal.”
As a quadriplegic, his health would not allow him to take the risk and teach in-person. Other teachers with less severe underlying conditions, like Spanish teacher Christina Borisoff who has life-long asthma, were able to further consider teaching in-person before finding that they too were unable to do so.
“Unfortunately the chemical irritants from the cleaners being used to keep the building safe for everybody made it very unsafe for me because of my asthma,” Borisoff said.
In addition to having to consider her own health, math teacher Beth Gallup had to take the health of her family into account. Both she and her husband are diabetic and felt the need to limit any additional risk of exposure, especially since her husband is self-employed and runs his own business.
“Any increased exposure to potential virus also increases my risk of getting it [and] increases my risk of sharing it with him,” Gallup said.
All students in these three teachers’ classes, whether they attend school in-person or virtually, zoom into class, but if they choose to attend in-person, an aid will be present to assist in the classroom.
“Mr. Barrett is in my classroom physically and so he is there every single day which is wonderful because there’s that consistency,” Borisoff said. “He normally works in our EC department and was switched over to be sort of the live person in my classroom and so he also logs onto the zooms with us and knows exactly what’s going on.”
Despite the challenges that come with teaching from home, all three teachers had high compliments for Rose administration, particularly principal Monica Jacobson who was prepared to meet their health needs and make sure that they could all teach in a safe environment.
“I have so much respect and admiration for Mrs. Jacobson,” Miller said. “From day one, she has done everything that she legally can do to assist in any of my needs or accommodations.”
Support provided to teachers this year has also been maintained, the only exception being a lack of devices for teachers like Gallup who has had to work off of her personal devices after her 2012 school-provided laptop broke down. Apart from technology issues, however, the support for teachers has been, in Borisoff’s opinion, been even better than in past years.
“I don’t know how any of us would be surviving any of this without [Instructional Coach Michael Flinchbaugh]... he zooms with us at all hours of the day and night, he’s constantly making videos and sending us tips and I mean, we just really have an awesome building,” Borisoff said. “I think [Mrs. Jacobson] definitely believes in the trickle down - if she takes care of her teachers, then her teachers will be healthy enough to take care of her students.”
Teachers are using various methods in an effort to help students as well, ranging from offering one-on-one zoom meetings, allowing for utilization of the chat feature in zoom to send questions directly to the teacher to minimize any risk of embarrassment, and in Miller’s case, continued efforts to increase student engagement.
“Especially with Astronomy, I allow for student question and response to sort of govern the direction of each lesson,” Miller said. “I have a starting point and a goal in mind, but if things come up along the way that are brought up to me by my students, we can end up in a completely different star system simply by their actions.”
Not only do these steps aim to enhance learning, but they also help cater to student’s social-emotional well being.
In some ways, attending school online provides equal learning and social opportunities for all students, but Borisoff feels that it also limits her ability to adjust the pace of the class to meet her student’s needs.
“Usually, I think I’m pretty good at pulling into who looks a little lost and who was distracted and when I don’t have their faces, I don’t have those cues,” Borisoff said. “So, I’ve definitely had to be a lot more methodical with making sure that I’m not just relying on those cues from students because I don’t have them.”
Despite the many difficulties that come along with teaching virtually, some teachers feel that it is the safest option for them and are doing their best to make it work for them and their students.