Grace Under Pressure

Our Stories Document Our Times

Media specialist Priscilla Dyson, St. Mary’s County.

As an educator, the impact of the coronavirus has been its own special kind of roller coaster. Initially, an early 2020 spring break didn’t seem like a problem. It’s always the time of year when educators desperately need to recharge. Then there was the news that we wouldn’t be returning immediately and would move to virtual instruction.

I knew many students in my Title l school wouldn’t have access to devices or the internet and that public libraries were closed. The majority of our students are students of color and many of our students are economically disadvantaged. Their families couldn’t simply purchase another computer. While I had to accept that some of our students wouldn’t have access to virtual education, I also worried if even their most basic needs were being met. How were they surviving? How were they han­dling the stress? When food distribution was available, I wondered if their families had transportation. We worried about them.

Many of our families are transient and addresses and phone numbers change frequently. Were information updates even being received? I compiled amazing resources but couldn’t share them widely because we didn’t want to make our technology inequity more obvious by promoting resources that many students wouldn’t be  able to access. An unexpected silver lining of the pandemic has been the ability to provide laptops for all our students.

Grace under pressure: Scroll down to see more member stories like these.

Our school system decided to adopt a new learning platform a year earlier than originally planned. Summer 2020 was busy, but I felt useful as I created resources for our educational community. It was a therapeutic distraction as I followed the national news and social justice activism following the murder of George Floyd.

Being able to physically hand many new lap­tops to students was amazing, even masked with lots of hand sanitizer. Thankfully, my mother was able to come to my home and stay with my children when I went back to school in September. Personally, this was a huge weight removed that many of my colleagues had to shoulder. Because both my husband and I, then our children, became ill with coronavirus, our Thanksgiving was in quarantine.

My role as an educator has evolved. We found a more flexible platform for students having difficulties learning virtually and I was one of the available teachers who could monitor and assist them virtually. Once hybrid instruction began, they were with me most of the day. After so many years in my middle school, I suddenly had regular classroom responsibilities! My student group grew larger and my media specialist responsibilities are now secondary. The adjustment is necessary, but I miss my normal role.

The continued public criticism of educators is hurtful. Social media is relentless. We have the same challenges as everyone else, but we are frequently held to an impossible standard. Why was our telework scrutinized? Are we only valued as educated babysitters? Why were we expected to forecast and prepare for a global pandemic? As I reflect now, I experienced depression and have added pandemic pounds I need to shed to become healthier. While I value our family time, it was difficult to isolate and not to travel and visit with family and friends.

I have hope for the upcoming year. I pray for the health of my family and community— my son will begin his 6th-grade year with me at our middle school! But I’m concerned with the new challenges we’ll face. How many famil­iar staff faces will remain? I wonder, what will our new normal look like?

Educators appreciate one another! We celebrated Educator Appreciation Week with a request for members to share their gratitude and thanks for kindness during the trying times of the past year. Here are just a few of the responses we got.