Why go back to the classroom? These teachers explain.

Some said it's their professional duty, despite the pandemic. Others felt they had no choice.
Amid protests over whether to reopen campuses during the pandemic, large percentages of teachers have agreed to return — some willingly, others less so.
Amid protests over whether to reopen campuses during the pandemic, large percentages of teachers have agreed to return — some willingly, others less so. [ Times (2010) ]
Published Aug. 5, 2020|Updated Aug. 7, 2020

BACK TO SCHOOL 2020 | Click to scroll down for more

Across Florida, many teachers have rallied against their school districts’ plans to hold classes in person. Their unions have filed lawsuits, arguing it’s less safe to be in a classroom now than it was when campuses shut down in the spring.

Amid such protests, large percentages of teachers have agreed to return — some willingly, others less so.

Related: Many teachers are fearful as they contemplate a return to school

Some said they didn’t have any problems with the idea, calling remote education a struggle and contending that schools must get back on track. Many of them were hesitant to speak out for attribution, though, saying they feared a backlash from the groups fighting to keep buildings closed.

None opposed the idea of returning to campus. They just wondered whether that could happen, and whether it’s a good idea to experiment. Still, they accepted the task.

Pinellas County teacher Chris McCormick
Pinellas County teacher Chris McCormick [ Courtesy of Chris McCormick ]

Chris McCormick, a fourth-grade teacher at Sawgrass Lake Elementary in St. Petersburg, said he chose to go back to school.

“I wanted to leave that (remote teaching) option for someone who might really need it,” McCormick said. “I know there are some older teachers or teachers who may not feel as safe to return.”

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t worry about the implications of being inside the school, where daily operations will be impacted by COVID-19 in ways not yet experienced.

“Would I feel safer if everyone started out distance learning? Yes,” said McCormick, who also has his own child entering kindergarten. “On the other hand, do kids learn better in person? I believe they do. So trying to find that balance is a very challenging task.”

He decided to make that effort to begin the year. But if the model doesn’t work out, he added, “I’d hope our district would consider reverting back to the online format.”

Hillsborough County teacher Laura Hobby
Hillsborough County teacher Laura Hobby [ Courtesy of Laura Hobby ]

Art teacher Laura Hobby initially didn’t plan to go back to Mitchell Elementary School in Tampa. But when she got the call, Hobby agreed to take that step.

In so doing, she decided on one thing: If she had any reservations, she wouldn’t be sharing them publicly.

“At our school, the teachers who are returning to (campus) have agreed that we will spread joy, keep children safe, and help them learn,” Hobby said.

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Mitchell’s administrators have done an “excellent job” of working with individual staff members to meet their specific needs, she said. The faculty works as a team to support one another. And the school’s parents bolster that community.

She anticipated that collaboration would continue, perhaps even to a greater degree as everyone works to educate children in uncertain times.

“We all need to be positive and keep working together, and remember why we’re doing this to begin with,” Hobby said.

Pinellas County teacher Mary Gressle
Pinellas County teacher Mary Gressle [ Courtesy of Mary Gressle ]

For special education teacher Mary Gressle, deciding to head back to Richard O. Jacobson Technical High in Seminole was not easy.

On the one hand, she missed being with other people as she largely stayed home to avoid exposure to the coronavirus.

“Every teacher totally loves their kids. You really miss your students when you’re not with them,” Gressle said. “I think that my students need me.”

Many of them have anxieties and other troubles that can’t be handled well through computers and phone lines, she suggested. Face-to-face instruction is critical in her mind.

Yet Gressle still frets that schools could become virus breeding grounds. Even as she returns, she said she believes it’s a mistake to reopen the buildings.

“Why am I going back?” she said. “Well, a paycheck. That’s the biggest reason. If I don’t go back, I don’t have anything else.”

HIllsborough County teacher Brianne Walburn
HIllsborough County teacher Brianne Walburn [ Courtesy of Brianne Walburn ]

Strawberry Crest High drama teacher Brianne Walburn agreed that the question is not about wanting to go back to school and students. The issue, she said, remains the health and safety aspects that don’t appear under control.

She asked to be assigned to an e-learning job. Her request wasn’t granted. She echoed the perspective of many educators who noted that students and parents were offered options, but school employees were not.

“There are so many teachers who are considered at risk, whose families are at risk, and there are not nearly enough e-learning positions to fit the demand,” Walburn said. “So why am I preparing to get back to school? Because I have no choice.”

That means her own first-grader has to go back to campus, too, because Walburn can’t stay home to oversee distance learning. She will throw herself into her classes, just as in any other year.

“I would never make my students think I don’t want to be there for them. Of course I do,” she said. “The challenge is, how do I make the children feel welcomed and loved ... in this distant, masked world.”

What if everyone refused to go to work? Nurses and doctors, firefighters and police, grocery store workers, truck...

Posted by Michelle Wainwright on Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Pasco County teacher Michelle Wainwright took a slightly different perspective. In a Facebook post, shared with the Tampa Bay Times, she wondered why teachers are fighting a return to their in-person posts in a way that police officers and grocery store workers have not.

“I want to return to school because I view my job as essential,” Wainwright wrote. “No I do not want to get sick and do not want kids to get sick but school is an essential part of our community, especially for those living in poverty.”

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