As the Vernon Township School District plans to move to a five-day, two-week rotating schedule in October, many teachers say they are feeling overwhelmed.
Early on Sept. 17, the school board received a letter from teachers outlining the difficulties they’re having with the district’s COVID-19 safety requirements put in place as in-person classes resume.
“It is affecting us physically,” said Vicky Smith, an English teacher at the high school and president of the Vernon Township Education Association. “It is affecting us emotionally. I haven’t gone through a day without a colleague not coming to me either in tears or worried. I think the board should be aware this is extremely difficult during this time period.”
School board member Kelly Mitchell asked if anything could be done to take the alleviate the situation. But Assistant Superintendent Charles McKay said the only solution would be to hire teachers to handle virtual teaching, which is not feasible either financially or logistically. “The people aren’t out there,” McKay said.
When school was closed in March, the state waived most teacher observation requirements. The state has offered no such waivers this year, but McKay said observations have been pushed back as much as possible, and are expected to happen between November and January. The requirement allows teachers to get feedback from objective, experienced observers of their instruction.
“We’ve done everything we can, but according to statute, we have to observe,” said district Superintendent Karen D’Avino.
McKay said teaching at this time of year is hard in a normal year, but pressures are even harder as teachers navigate virtual learning programs and other realities of teaching during a pandemic.
“I don’t want to conflate a difficult situation with people not doing a good job,” McKay said. “Our teachers are doing a terrific job. It’s just the fact that the situation is very difficult that they’re working with.”
“I know we’re only eight days in,” said school board President Justin Annunziata. “But if we’re seeing the writing on the wall that we could lead the burn out and seeing that our faculty is unable to perform well for our students, we need to take that seriously.”
The new schedule
According to the district calendar, starting with October, the Blue Team will attend school for three days the first week and then virtually the second week, while the Gold team attends two days. The second week will be the opposite, with the Gold team attending Wednesday through Friday and virtually Monday and Tuesday.
Currently, students in a cohort attend only two days per week.
The high school physical education teacher asked if it Wednesday could be kept as a virtual day until the end of the first marking period in November. This might be explored at the Sept. 23 meeting of the district’s Reopening Committee.
There also is no timeline as to when virtual teaching could come to an end, if ever.
“This is our reality,” McKay said. “This is not going to change with a vaccine. A vaccine’s going to come. People are going to get it, but it’s going to take a long time for this process to bring all of our students back. I think what our teachers are feeling is not only the beginning of the year and a whole new way to teach, but the understanding that this is not going away.”
McKay said last week that he had been in every classroom except for the high school, checking on the teachers and talking to them about how they’re handling their jobs.
“We are trying to perform a miracle,” McKay said. “We’re here. Our students are meeting their teachers. They’re getting to know them, and education is happening on every level with all of our students. We’re trying to make sure their virtual presence is just as important as it is in person. That’s no easy task, and our teachers are the ones who have to pull that off.”
Editor’s note: In the original article, the pull quote by Assistant Superintendent Charles McKay was mistakenly attributed to Superintendent Karen D’Avino. It was correctly attributed in the body of the story.
“This is our reality. This is not going to change with a vaccine. It’s going to take a long time for this process to bring all of our students back. I think what our teachers are feeling is not only the beginning of the year and a whole new way to teach, but the understanding that this is not going away.” --Assistant Superintendent Charles McKay