Teachers’ dilemma: Back to school in-person or virtually?

Elpidio R. Estioko (Phpoto By FB)

A mid the omicron surge, (the US set a global record Monday January 3 with 1 million new Covid cases reported in a single day), teachers are in a dilemma as to whether to go back to school in person or virtually. The move to go back in the classroom was met by teachers with mixed emotions — some favor it, others don’t!

In my case, aside from the safety factor, I prefer working at home virtually rather than teaching in my classroom on campus. I say this because if I have to be teaching in-person-learning, I need to teach using the hybrid approach because some students will be physically in the classroom while others are off campus using their computers, all at the same time! This means… I will be addressing two types of students in one class simultaneously!

There will be a lot of adjustments to be done and we need more time to really manage the classroom to the satisfaction of all the students. This type of instruction is manageable (I did this before) but it will be an overloaded type of instruction as far as the teachers are concerned, especially if you have many students in the roster averaging 12 to 15 (a very conservative figure).

To manage it effectively, we need to find a way to keep the students in the classroom busy while attending to online students and vice versa. When you are attending to online students, the students in class have their assignments and when it’s time for those students in class to be addressed, you need to assign lessons this time to online students. This situation is easier said than done but it can be done! It’s just that we need to plan it properly, be alert in the execution and be flexible in the process.

It will be easier if you have the same set of students the whole day (same students in four blocks just like in public schools). But… if your students are different in every block (students in charter schools are scheduled that way), then it would be very hard to make the adjustments.

Besides, you need to contend with your own safety and the safety of your students. A colleague of mine informed me that when they started taking in students in the dorms and conducted campus activities, some staff (10) and students (9) were found positive after the event. They immediately conducted mitigation measures and implemented contact tracing then they placed staff and students who were in contact with those found positive. on a 7-day quarantine.

In a different situation, two educators — one teaching in person, the other virtually — share what the post-holiday return to school is like as the highly contagious variant surges. (NEA Today, Cindy Long, Senior Writer).

In Cindy Long’s story, Julie Holderbaum, a high school English teacher, is glad to be back in the classroom in Minerva, Ohio, but admits it’s a little nerve wracking as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 surges. “I’d feel a lot better if we had a mask mandate,” she says. “We were in person throughout the last academic year and masks are what helped us avoid going to remote learning.”

Educators agree that in-person instruction is the best learning environment and the vast majority of schools welcomed students back into their buildings this week after the holiday break. But some schools sent notices asking for patience and flexibility with school staff shortages resulting from the spread of COVID over the holidays, and some districts – including Atlanta, Georgia, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Newark, New Jersey – made the call to temporarily cancel in-person learning.

“The lives of all of our students mean more to me than anything else, especially since three of them are actually mine,” said Newark Board of Education President Dawn Haynes in a statement.

In the same story, Pontiac High School 11th grade English and 9th grade history teacher Melanie Ward says her community has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the county. “I was relieved that we wouldn’t be exposed to all of the germs coming back into the building, especially after I heard from our high schoolers about what they did on New Year’s Eve or how many friends and family they gathered with over the break,” says Ward.

There were various reasons students missed class, but Ward says the families she spoke to were actually relieved about the call to go remote as cases rise. Some students also expressed relief, particularly one whose father passed away from COVID just before the break.

Ward said: “…I am urging all of my students to get vaccinated and boosted and to not listen to everything they hear on social media. I tell them I got three shots, and I’m still here!”
Julie Holderbaum has the same message for her students in Ohio.
“I tell them to be as cautious as you can be,” Holderbaum says. “That’s the best we can do.” She’s not in favor of going remote because of the enormous difficulty it poses for students, families, and educators and she believes the best education happens in person, but says she understands why some schools have chosen to go remote during the current surge.

“I’d feel safer if I was working from home and not in contact with 100 kids a day,” she says… Teaching has always been a challenging job and COVID has just exacerbated it,” she says. “Everything is a new decision. We still decide how to teach a lesson the best way for learning and engagement, but now we also decide how to teach and be COVID safe.”
The Delta variant has been attacking our fellow Americans in most of our states that are thinly vaccinated. Then came the omicron variant which is spreading so fast that it’s becoming to be the dominant virus in 2022.

Researchers found that 13 percent of 217 positive coronavirus case specimens collected on Wednesday had the mutation. That was up from about 7 percent of samples they had tested from the day before, and 3 percent from the day before that — in a region that had its first identified cases only two weeks ago. Latest statistics show that most of those found positive and hospitalized came from the unvaccinated.

“It’s clearly looking like it’s rising really quickly,” said Dr. Pavitra Roychoudhury, a researcher at the University of Washington.

Also, Dr. Trevor Bedford, who studies the spread and evolution of viruses at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, said the Omicron numbers are still too small to have a large impact on overall case numbers, but he said that would likely change by next week as it continues to displace the virulent Delta version of the virus. The variant is spreading progressively.

“There is an inevitable very large wave of Omicron,” Dr. Bedford said. “It’s going to happen.”
CNN (Adrienne Vlogt) reported that Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said “Omicron will likely become the dominant Covid-19 variant in the US,” when he spoke during a briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on December 1.

“Omicron is going to be a challenge because it spreads very rapidly, and the vaccines that we use — the regular two-dose mRNA — don’t do very well against infection itself. But particularly if you get the boost, it is pretty good,” Fauci told CNN.
The schools are mostly affected and they have to make major adjustments and flexibility in overcoming the pandemic, so students can continue in-person instructions which was believed to be more effective than online instructions.

I agree with West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, when he said: “If you’re not vaccinated, your part of the problem rather than part of the solution. You know, that’s all there is to it. If we had you vaccinated, less people would die. That’s all there is to it.” (Alex Hider, Fox 4)
I go for President Biden’s confidence that if we work together, we can suppress the virus that has been bugging us for more than a year now. A unified action is the key to our problem. “We just have to remember who we are. We are the United States of America. And there is nothing — nothing we can’t do if we do it together,” Biden echoed.
Again, I agree that if we don’t submit to vaccination, we are part of the problem! So, America, let’s be part of the solution!

How about the teachers? The dilemma is there for them and school administrators to solve!
(ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and a multi-awarded journalist here in the US. For feedbacks, comments… please email the author at estiokoelpidio@gmail.com.)

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A veteran journalist in the Philippines and an award-winning journalist in the US. For feedbacks, comments email estiokoelpidio@gmail.com.