Coping As Best They Can

December 14, 2020

“The fear that surrounds COVID is not paranoia, it’s precaution. There are people who say that they don’t have a healthy fear of this virus, and they choose to ignore basic safety precautions like mask wearing in public, but that’s not bravery — that’s a lack of decency. We need to choose to care about each other,” said Queer Alliance club advisor and English teacher, Danielle Serio.

That fear can only be compounded for teachers and front line workers, who have to grapple with the serious personal effects of COVID on their personal and professional lives. Teachers across the district have been forced to deviate from their traditional work practices, like many of us have. However, they have been placed in a unique position of having to keep a class engaged, regardless of whether it is through in-person learning or through video conferencing. 

“Any kind of change is stressful, and this year has been a smorgasbord of it. All of my favorite parts of teaching — leading enthusiastic debates and helping students find their voices in real time — those have been subbed out for largely silent Zoom classrooms and a lot of extra grading. It’s hard to find the joy right now,” said Serio. 

Teaching in-person can be a daunting task, especially if teachers are immunocompromised or have family and friends in their inner circles that they could be putting at risk. 

Basically, once I knew I’d be forced to be back on campus and in contact with students, I had to make the decision to stop seeing my extended family. My brother recently received a liver transplant, so he’s immune-compromised. He lives with my parents who are older, so it’s incredibly sad that I can’t see them for the foreseeable future,” said English teacher Katie Wegner. 

Serio saw the damaging effects of the virus firsthand, as her father contracted the virus in June, and her partner’s father was in the ICU because of COVID. This, as well as the rising case numbers were worrisome to her, especially when the transition to hybrid learning was announced. “Early on, we didn’t know what school was going to look like. The OC Department of Education was trying to advocate for full classrooms and no masks because young children didn’t experience severe symptoms at the same rate as adults, ignoring the fact that children can still spread the virus to their families and teachers without the right precaution,” said Serio. 

Coming back to teach with other people, who may be exposed to the virus through their after school activities can feel very threatening to teachers; however, some of that fear is beginning to subside.

As the number of students who are doing the hybrid model has started to decrease, many teachers have begun to feel safer in their environment. Many have taken extra precautions to keep themselves safe, such as Serio who keeps an air purifier in her room. 

The constant adaptation to this virus has been emotional for many, particularly for those who are at constant risk of exposure in their professions. 

I’m an optimistic person, so I want to be encouraging and appreciative. I’m just not sure how anyone navigates in a perfect manner under these circumstances. It is tough to hear that the district makes every effort to offer options to families (as in an all online option) but the same doesn’t hold true for its employees,” said Wegner.

Fortunately, teachers have found support through the process, if not through the district but through each other.

 “My colleagues have formed a wonderful support structure for one another over this whole process, and I feel incredibly lucky to be working with the teachers on this campus and in my department through one of the most challenging times of my career,” said Serio. 

“Prepared” is not a super accurate word for how most teachers felt as we transitioned our carefully-designed curricula to a format they were never intended for. I’m craving consistency, but adaptability is the name of the game now.

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