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Baltimore Teachers and Their Response to COVID-19– Sidney Thomas, Holabird Academy

The Fund asked a group of City Schools’ educators to share their experience of teaching during this time of school closures due to the COVID-19 crisis. In our third blog post of this series, Sidney Thomas, middle school teacher at Holabird Academy, describes the challenges of transitioning from the classroom to remote teaching and discusses the importance of  reestablishing work-life balance during quarantine:

If I sat here and told folks that adapting to teaching during a worldwide pandemic was easy, I’d be lying through my front teeth. Teaching is already hard work but doing it while quarantined at home is even more difficult. I can’t sugarcoat any of that.

Even now it’s hard to reconcile how the first half of March was so normal. I saw students daily, I had a few upcoming field trips, students were learning about ancient civilizations and the establishment of governments, I had planned some major PTA afterschool events for students and families, and my final lesson observation was coming up. Then, Governor Hogan announced the first school closures and stay at home orders. Just that quickly, all elements of normalcy vanished. I was uneasy and had so many questions and concerns.

What is teaching going to look like now?
How does all this affect kids and their families?
Will students get to close out the school year?
How can I engage kids and their families?
How in the world am I going to do all of this and still be mom?

It turned out that doing sudden virtual teaching was exhausting. More than ever, I found myself struggling to find a balance between virtual teaching and home life. I couldn’t really find a comfortable niche because teaching felt like a 24/7 obligation. I felt like I was always on. There was a constant influx of work emails. There were meetings and paperwork. There were so many calls and texts. There was keeping students and families informed about the everchanging updates. There were so many Google Class submissions that I had to respond and provide feedback. There were lessons and learning activities to plan. There was learning these new online learning platforms for live classes. Then, on top of all that, I still had to balance being mom to my 5-year-old who still needed me to teach him, spend time with him, make him feel safe and loved, and so much more. This went on for a bit.

Then, something just clicked for me. I had to literally pause and reflect because I didn’t like how it all was making me feel burned out. How could I be a great teacher to students and a great parent to my son if I was running on fumes? The honest answer was I couldn’t. It was then that I drew a hard line with this “quarantine teaching life.” I started creating a schedule and actually holding myself to it.

Once I finished working for the day, I stopped doing anything work-related. No responding to work emails (even if it would only take a few minutes to do). No checking Google Class. No responding to work-related texts. No paperwork. Nothing. Those things would be waiting for me. I realized that making exceptions to do “just one more little thing” leads to more work, which continued to blur the newly murky line between work and home. So, I had to just stop.

Now more than ever, I understand even more that we must give and extend grace to ourselves, colleagues, students, and families. We’re not robots. There’s no “right” way to learn or to teach during this unusual time. We’re all trying to figure things out and do the best we can with what we have. And that’s okay.

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