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Sunday, September 19, 2021

School teachers, staff adjusting to in-person learning

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Evan Taylor remembers what it felt like in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic upended education. It wasn’t just the uncertainty and quickly pivoting to virtual school; people were praising teachers, calling them heroes.

Life was hard, yes, but Taylor felt appreciated. Now it’s August 2021. School is back — in-person for the most part — with plenty of lessons learned but still some of the same feelings of unease.
The praise for teachers, though?

“It’s dissipated a bit,” said Taylor, a math teacher at Center for Inquiry School 70.

Taylor sees almost all of his students in person every day and, like other teachers, feels like students and teachers would be in a much better position to go back to virtual learning if they have to. But in-person learning also means teachers like Taylor, who often work into the evening to help students and families, are feeling burnout only a couple of weeks into the school year.

It’s part of the capitalist mindset, Taylor said: “You’re not doing your best if you’re not tired and exhausted at the end of the day.”

Some teachers see a potential saving grace in mask mandates. Indianapolis Public Schools, Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township and other districts initially had some variation of a mask-optional policy but have since made masks mandatory, regardless of vaccination status.

The moves came as COVID-19 case totals increased, largely because of the more transmissible delta variant. There were 1,452 new student cases reported to the state health department in the seven-day period ending Aug. 13.

Masks won’t reduce the lofty expectations teachers face, but they could cut back on the likelihood of another transition back to virtual school.

Eric Parquet, director of human resources at Metropolitan School District of Pike Township, said he heard from teachers after school started Aug. 3 that they wanted a mask mandate, which the board implemented Aug. 12. (Initial guidance said students and staff weren’t required to wear a mask if they provided documentation that they had been vaccinated or tested positive for antibodies.)

That helped “ease some tension,” Parquet said, although he added the beginning of the school year has still been stressful for teachers as everyone adjusts to an education scene that’s as normal as it’s been since the pandemic started. Some students haven’t been in a classroom in a year and a half, Parquet noted.

David Johnson III, a math teacher at Lynhurst 7th and 8th Grade Center in Wayne Township, where students and staff have to wear masks, teaches students in the 11-13 age group, so some of them aren’t even eligible to be vaccinated. Lynhurst has reported no new cases for students, teachers or staff.

Johnson said this school year started much smoother than he anticipated, though he still does think about the possibility of having to go virtual again, especially because of how sudden it seemed to happen the first time.

“If it does happen, the kids are used to it,” he said. “My colleagues, we’re used to it.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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