Teachers in the Davis School District, like many across the country, are grappling with the changes brought to their classrooms by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of those educators are airing the concerns the pandemic has caused in new teacher support groups facilitated by the district.
The groups started meeting Sept. 25 and, so far, over 30 teachers have signed up, according to Bryce Russon, one of the district clinicians who leads the groups.
“We want to help,” Russon said. “We want to be able to provide the support that they need. From the feedback we’ve gotten, it seems to be providing that niche for them.”
To limit in-person contact and prevent the spread of COVID-19, all sessions are held virtually over Microsoft Teams. Although Russon was not able to divulge the topics discussed in meetings due to teachers’ privacy, numerous teachers from the district have publicly voiced concerns about a growing number of cases and expanding workloads.
On the same day as the first teacher support group session, over 50 people — the majority of whom were teachers — gathered outside the Davis School District office building to protest the district moving elementary schools from a hybrid to a four-day schedule on Sept. 28.
The Davis School District’s first day of school on Aug. 25 was hybrid, meaning half of its students met in-person, while the other half were completing coursework online. Under the hybrid system, students alternate days in school and days learning from home.
At that point, the district planned on reevaluating whether it would send students back for full in-person classes after winter break. In response to a coalition of parents who opposed the schedule, however, the district’s Board of Education revisited the matter on Sept. 15 and voted to start students on a four-day week.
While some teachers supported abandoning the hybrid system, others who wanted to stay on it were met with vitriol.
“As teachers are voicing concerns of not being prepared to go back to a full schedule, we’re met with name calling and threats,” said Amy Cassil, a teacher at Centennial Junior High School, in the Sept. 15 board meeting.
After lengthy deliberations and the convening of a special school board meeting on Sept. 23, the board eventually determined that elementary schools would start a four-day school week on Sept. 28 and secondary schools would make that move on Nov. 2.
“The back and forth the district is doing is problematic,” said Jennifer Baker, a social studies teacher at Sunset Junior High School and a district steward for the American Federation of Teachers. “The back and forth is problematic because we don’t know exactly how to plan for that.”
Currently, teachers are holding in-person classes, maintaining all course content online and helping quarantined students stay caught up. Each schedule change means teachers have to rework all of their lesson plans and rethink how content is delivered to students, Baker said.
In addition to these responsibilities, many teachers in the district are overseeing sanitation and enforcing state guidelines to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in their classrooms.
“I’m absolutely exhausted,” Baker said. “To be honest, I haven’t seen teachers this tired this early in the year ever.”
Russon said the district created the teacher support groups to relieve some of the stress placed on its teachers. The groups are meant to be a resource where teachers are not only receiving help from professionals but can also lean on each other for support.
His office, Student & Family Resources, wants to expand its reach to help more teachers.
“Our biggest concern is that we have thousands of teachers and we have a small percentage of those in our group,” Russon said. “We’re hoping we’re getting to those who really need it.”
Informing teachers about the support group has been placed in the hands of principals, Russon said. If a principal feels a teacher is in need of emotional support, they relay the contact information for Student & Family Resources.
Knowledge of this resource has not trickled down to many teachers, though, Baker said.
“The word has not come down through the chain and I know that a lot of us teachers are struggling,” she said. “The demands are really, really high on us at this point.”
According to Russon, the district has the capacity to expand the program as much as is needed. There are currently eight clinicians available to hold teacher support groups and there are others on-call outside the office, if necessary, he said.
Baker said the support groups are a good first step by the district in throwing a lifeline to flailing teachers, but they need a lot more help. She would like to see the Board of Education give more heed to teachers in its decision-making.
“Listen to teachers and really take our position seriously,” Baker said. “We’re the ones out in the trenches. ... That would be a really inexpensive way to make a difference.”