COVID classes: A teacher’s diary

first 2 weeks of school disrupted by virus precautions, tech glitches, smoke

PHOTOS/SARAH BRYANT: Teacher Sarah Bryant and a socially-distanced choir classroom where students may hum, not sing.

My name is Sarah Bryant and I’m a Washoe County teacher. This is a day-by-day account of my activities during the first two weeks of school in Reno, a city in the grip of the pandemic and blanketed in a pall of dense smoke from California wildfires.

We hurriedly prepared for the reopening

My school district decided just weeks before school started to operate in a hybrid A/B schedule. The district, however, also allowed students to choose a fully distance-learning option, with their enrolled teachers. This caused all kinds of problems with enrollment in courses and attendance, but I’ll sum it up. In a “normal” school year, I’d have five classes to prep for and take attendance for. Post-pandemic, I now have 260 students spread out among 14 classes. Some are at home and some are in front of me in school, in four subject areas and among three different grade levels. The amount of time it takes to keep all this straight is mind-boggling.

For almost all my classes, now I have to provide simultaneous in-person content and online content. I also, however, have a group of students who do not come on an A/B schedule, they come every day. So, now I have to come up with something else for those kids to do, since the rest of their class is only in front of me every other day.

School start was pushed back by a week for “professional development,” which primarily consisted of teaching staff COVID-19 protocols that changed soon after we learned them.

The first week coincided with wildfires

Monday, Aug. 17: School was supposed to begin, but due to the dense smoke from the wildfires to the west that blanketed the Truckee Meadows, our first day of school was canceled, gaining another professional development day.

Tuesday, Aug. 18 to Wednesday, Aug. 19: We held school both days, with 20 minute classes to instruct students in methods aimed at memorizing their masked classmates’ eyes instead of whole faces and to  quickly give class directions and protocols. Oh, and with some peppy talk about still being able to love school even under these conditions.

Thursday, Aug. 20: Because of smoke, school was cancelled again. I thought we were supposed to be working as teachers, but apparently that day was like a “snow day,” and I worked all day for nothing. At least I got a whole bunch of on-line lesson plans loaded (that was eight hours work to upload a week’s worth of lessons). I was told I’d be able to use a program called “Edgenuity” for lessons, but it turned out there is no Edgenuity support for my content. So I have to create lessons from scratch.

Friday, Aug. 21: School was canceled again, also due to heavy smoke. Teachers were told we had to work. I was already working; students were communicating with me and attempting to do work.

In the midst of that, I was notified that six of my students have been “excluded,” due to COVID-19 protocols. This does not mean they have the virus, but there is some reason that they aren’t allowed to return to class, which makes me very nervous. How concerned for my own and my family’s health should I be? While I was writing this, I got an email from another student, confused why I hadn’t communicated with her, because she was also excluded. I had received no notification that she wasn’t allowed in class.

The smoke abates; the 2nd week of school begins

The week of Monday, Aug. 24 there was less smoke in the Reno area, so we were able to go to school from Monday to Thursday. Even with COVID, even with masks, even with hybrid schedule, I felt like we were starting to get traction.

“I should mention that I can’t really teach my content. Choir isn’t allowed right now, due to COVID-19 dangers. So, I’m a choir/drama teacher who can’t teach singing or acting. We can’t perform. We can’t do anything inside but hum. The district has allowed us to “sing outside.” But, it’s almost 100 degrees, and, as I mentioned, it’s smoky. We have to wear masks, and right outside my classroom is an extremely loud air conditioning unit.”

— Sarah Brock, choir and drama teacher.

But sure, we can sing outside. The few days we had school, I did take some kids outside to sing for a few minutes. It was painful, to see not only the hope in their eyes — they’re hungry for this — and the pain, but it’s so far from actual choir.

‘Code Yellow’ declared, a lock-down follows

Tuesday, Aug. 25, during 5th period, we had a “CODE YELLOW.” That means there’s a nearby “threat off-campus.” For two periods we had to teach under lock-down, not knowing what was happening. After school, bus kids were raced to buses, and teachers were asked to stay with students who walk or bike to school until an adult could come pick them up. All this time, teachers were told nothing.

When we were able to check our own phones, we found out that across the street from the school, a construction crew had unearthed old dynamite. While scary, our imaginations had conjured much worse threats.

That evening, one of our school board members (who was among those who voted to approve the reopening plan that forced the in-person learning environment we’re now working in) resigned after the details of his messy divorce, which also exposed his other questionable actions on social media, surfaced in news reports.

Smoke rolls in, schools close down again

PHOTO/SUSAN SKORUPA: Sunrise through the smoke over Reno on Friday, Aug. 28.

Friday, Aug. 28: That day should have been the third Friday of school, but under the reopening plan it would have been the seventh day of in-person instruction. It wasn’t. I got up, prepared for school, and got on the road. Suddenly, on the radio, I heard that school was being held completely as “distance-learning” that day due to more dangerous smoke rolling in from the west. I stared at the radio. At that point, I had received no communication from the school district itself.

I pulled over and waited for confirmation, which came shortly via phone and email. Yes, school was canceled. This was just over half an hour before classes were scheduled to start. I turned around. Once  home, I frantically scheduled seven Zoom meetings, put announcements on our learning management system, attended to the Microsoft Teams’ learning platforms, sent out emails to all students as well as email notifications to their parents.

Then, I spent all day on Zoom, translating the content that would have been held in person to a digital format, all with a smile, all encouraging the kids as much as I could, as much as I could try to make this somewhat engaging and “normal.” However, even after all my work, after all my attempted communication, I had about 10 to 20% of my students even show up.

After doing Zoom presentations back-to-back all day, no time to eat, barely time to go to the bathroom, I then had to spend an hour taking attendance for all those students who were at home (How you ask? How do you take attendance for students you can’t see? That is great question.), and then tried to upload the Zoom meetings for the students who didn’t attend, only to find half of the computer files had gotten corrupted and wouldn’t upload.

And it’s only the beginning of the school year

So, there you are. There’s the first three weeks of “school,” in the age of COVID-19. I’m trying. I’m beyond exhausted. I’m weary. But, if you read the “bottom of the internet,” the comments on posts about school cancellations over the last two weeks, you will see plenty of comments about “horrible”  teachers are, “how lazy, how liberal, how unionized, how we’re responsible for destroying the economy,”  how we just want a “paid vacation,” how we just need to “shut up and teach,” and how other people’s jobs have changed, too.

Please, please, please explain to me and to all the other teachers who are weathering this relentless storm how we’re lazy, how I and all the others are still answering student emails, as I type this, after 6 p.m. on a Friday night.

Please, tell us, tell me again, how lazy we are.

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10 Comments

  1. Students attending online or in class should be taught simultaneously as if in one class. All students learning the same thing on the same days regardless of in person or online as if in class together. These shouldn’t be “seperate” classes. Lesson planning should be the same as if all students are in person, use the power of technology in your favor.

    • Hello Parent,
      That sounds terrific. Please drop off the extra laptops to our school, so every student can access all of their digital materials that the teacher is responsible for creating. Thank you. Oh, wait, you don’t have an extra 200 laptops? Neither do we. At some schools we are teaching with the same pacing day to day, but the methods change as the delivery does. We were given no new technology to provide distance learning. None. We are making it work and striving for equity.

    • Feel free to apply for a teaching job if you feel that you can harness the technology and all of the other demands of the job better than Ms. Bryant.

      Parents should have some grace and compassion for the teachers thrust into this poorly-planned s-show.

  2. Sarah Bryant, I for one appreciate all that you and all the other Teachers are doing! I have 7 grandchildren that are attending School here in Washoe and I have seen the struggles for them and their parents! I can only imagine how difficult this must be for all you teachers! We all long for the days when things might ever get back to some kind of normalcy! Until then try to ignore all the naysayers and know that there are so many others that appreciate all your hard work that you do every day for our kids! Sincerely, Janet Cissell

  3. It’s nice to see this piece be published. I’ve been in Washoe County for two years, and the disrespect of teachers is shocking. Also shocking is the level of mistreatment teachers are willing to accept without striking. If I were a single, public school teacher, I’d leave.

  4. Thank you for all of your time, hard work & passion! I have heard stories like yours from at least 4 teachers in the past 2 weeks. Some teachers have even had entire grade levels changed on them by the district less than 3 days before reopening. A bit of disorganization from the system in times like these is to be expected. However, this mess of a school year is a disgrace and the stress put on the teachers is inexcusable. I am so sorry for all you are being put through. Thank you for doing your absolute most to teach our youth every day. I don’t have any children or even any family members in school, but I wanted to take the time to thank you.

  5. Dude you rock!

    Keep up the great effort!!

    It’s not just the need for computers, INTERNET access is extremely difficult for quite a few students as well. Wifi hotspots identified for students is a start…but the reality is there is no access for a significant portion of the student population.

    Covid continues to spread within our community and schools are the new frontline for the contagion. I suspect there will be covid spikes in the community, not to mentions schools, shortly.

  6. I want to thank you for shedding a light on the struggles that the staff as well as our students and parents are experiencing. I have 2 distance learners and can’t thank our teachers for their guidance enough. We are 1 family, I can only imagine how many times teachers have had to step in and guide a family like ours. I do wish the kids were somehow zooming in somehow to the live lesson. Atleast in some form. ROTC has figured it out. 14 classes is ridiculous. I pray for all our educators and Thank you for all that you give everyday.

  7. Much respect for the teachers. Please remember the sword is sharp on both sides. With that said I do not understand how it is for years now I have seen K – 12 online school being pushed to parents as an option to in person schooling. So how is there is no standard curriculum that could be used for distance learning? I get it, individual teaching skills vary, but the curriculum should be uniform. And for the curriculum I as a parent am rather disturbed at how many teachers just accept the curriculum handed to them by the higher ups. Higher ups deciding things like common core math and my biggest issue the SEL learning. Social Emotional Learning. First of all prior to SEL schools, classrooms, and teachers have done excellent jobs as these things are naturally taught and learned throughout life. Humans are community prone living organisms, we prefer social living, hence cities. We already know how to socially and emotionally deal with everyday life. Look through the other lens are the “higher ups” and those that obediently support whatever they are told saying that for the most of all school students that they need this skill level to be brought forth in the fashion that it has? That since the dawn of man we humans are failing at social and emotional behavior? REALLY? This must be the same crowd that says America is systemically racist! As if that were true, what a joke. We just finished electing a black man for president, TWICE and we are systemic racists? What has become relevant is that our children have NOT BEEN TAUGHT properly. This is evident with whats happening now with this Marxist blm movement, antifa, and the by far and wide most ignorant decisions by the “higher ups” to defund police and remove the first responders ability to maintain law and order and thus chaos and nation wide deaths and property damage at unheard of levels is being stated as peaceful protests and lawful assemblies. Come on I for one am not stupid, nor ignorant. And better yet am not tolerating the ignorance of this new ideology and likewise the public education system to continue their reign of acquiesce and ignorance. It has been long overdue in our education system to be the real need of reform, not the men and women in blue. The educators need reform. History and the real history needs to be taught. Without it we are doomed to repeat those mistakes. Which are just that, mistakes. We all know it, we have known it and always strive for better social and emotional learning, without some set of alleged for the good of all guidelines by some sick ideologies of twisted minds of corrupt “higher ups” SEL uses in part Plato’s philosophy on the website. Shall I remind everyone about history and Plato’s allegory cave “In Plato’s theory, the cave represents people who believe that knowledge comes from what we see and hear in the world – empirical evidence. The cave shows that believers of empirical knowledge are trapped in a ‘cave’ of misunderstanding.” SEL is “the process through which we learn to recognize and manage emotions, care about others, make good decisions, behave ethically and responsibly, develop positive relationships, and avoid negative behaviors”.We are told “Research shows that if youth explicitly learn about well-being, their concept of subjective well-being can increase because they become mindfully aware of its components.” SUBJECTIVE being the concern here. We are a self governing society. And as so I can assure you that society has a mindful way of keeping the mass subjective to the expectations of the time. We need not public servants to be over extending their ideologies in the form of rules and regulations and policies and procedures through their misunderstood through SUBJECTIVE empowerment and feelings of superiority over those who pay their wages as well as their comfortable retirement. of all the areas of public servants the educators need a reform from top to bottom and back to top again. Starting with the curriculum and that should remain to the STEAM and true history. Let the SEL play out as it has since the dawn of humans. We will do just fine without that in our curriculum. I would gladly trade todays lifestyle for one a hundred years ago. A time when men were men, and morals and ethics and a mans word meant something. When you could count on your fellow man to what was right. there will always be the few individuals that make for a poor example but those continually were exiled from the village as then as they still are today. More poplulation more of all the same, we deal with it, we will survive. but we will not survive as free individuals if we continue to allow this ignorance and failed ideologies continue to plague us because WE ALLOWED HISTORY TO BE FORGOTTEN.

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