Jo Eberle and Jessica Beckinger share their experiences teaching during the different phases of the pandemic
Educators continue to adapt to the changing phases of the pandemic, and as the school year comes to a close, Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) teachers Jo Eberle and Jessica Beckinger reflect on this “demoralizing” year for educators.
DJUSD schools returned to campus after the district’s spring break on April 12, 2021, which Beckinger and Eberle both expressed concerns about at the time. Mainly, teachers were worried about the lack of adjustment time for returning to in-person instruction and the safety of students’ and their own families. Beckinger, a kindergarten and first grade teacher at Birch Lane Elementary, said that, luckily, the adjustment back to the classroom has been easier than she expected.
“I thought there would be a longer period of normalization, getting them into their routines and expected behavior,” Beckinger said. “That actually happened pretty quickly, and it feels easier in terms of management as a teacher because it’s the smallest group I’ve ever had. In terms of getting every child’s attention or just behavior management in the classroom, it feels like a cakewalk because I have half the number of children I normally have in that room.”
Previously, Beckinger had expressed that she was worried about being able to balance teaching and lesson planning for her in-person students with preparing materials and lessons for her distance learners, but she said that she has been able to focus her afternoons on lesson preparation by simulcasting morning class to her distance learners while she teaches in person.
“I’ve freed up my afternoons now to prep […] lessons for the distance learners and grade their work and respond to emails and prep for in-person lessons—all the things we need to do,” Beckinger said. “So I freed up two to three hours most afternoons to focus exclusively on lesson work for the distance learners.”
At Birch Lane, Beckinger’s kindergarten and first grade mixed class comes for in-person instruction from 8:30-11:30 a.m., so she is able to use time after lunch to record and prepare lessons for distance learners, as well as catch up on other work. Though Beckinger said that she still has to work harder to prepare essentially two days of lessons everyday, the real challenge of having kids back on campus has been enforcing social distancing rules and COVID-19 restrictions, as every class is approaching the rules differently.
“My students are not having recess. They’re staying very strictly, three feet apart,” Beckinger said. “And they’re looking out our classroom window and there’s another kindergarten class having full recess, and that’s not fair to my students.”
Beckinger explained that her students, who are five and six years old, do not understand all of the restrictions put in place, and as much as she wishes they could go out to recess, she recognizes that as a parent, she would expect her childrens’ teachers to follow the protocols set by the district.
Eberle said that it has also been challenging to try to ensure that all of her students are receiving the same classroom experience, even while some of them continue to learn virtually.
“It’s hard to get the kids in the room to really put the effort into connecting with the kids who are still doing distance learning,” Eberle said. “If I make breakout rooms, or group work in Zoom, it kind of feels weird for students to be working with someone in the room and maintaining that connection, making sure that person at home is involved.”
Both educators also expressed that though they are happy to have students back in the classroom, and are looking forward to a more normal academic year in the fall, the pandemic has been challenging for teachers.
Eberle said that as a result of the reopening schools debate, many people were circulating inflammatory posts about teachers. She said she ended up unfriending high school classmates and neighbors on Facebook because of this. She also said that some of the negativity towards teachers during this time has given her space to reflect on her profession.
“It hasn’t affected my passion for teaching, but there’s been a lot of time for reflection on the effort that it takes,” Eberle said. “Do I always want to be working this hard for this payoff? It has been interesting to think about doing other things.”
Beckinger also said that she felt the rhetoric around teachers shifted during the pandemic. She remembers feeling like parents began to blame educators for their kids being stuck at home and feels that educators began to be deemed “lazy,” while she said she was working harder than ever.
Beckinger said that not only was she dedicating significant time and effort to teaching when working from home, but she had to work even harder to adjust to using Zoom and Google Classroom virtually overnight.
“For those of us who aren’t super techie, like my generation up, it was a big challenge,” Beckinger said. “Millennials maybe had it a little easier because they grew up with tech, but I didn’t use email until college […] I didn’t even have a cell phone until college.”
She also said that in addition to preparing for classes, teaching from home and responding to emails, Beckinger had to take care of her own children, since her husband had work in person throughout the pandemic, and their daycare was shut down for much of 2020.
“I did not have help for a good while in any form until 6 p.m. each day, five days a week,” Beckinger said. “Our parents stopped helping because of the pandemic and since older people were getting so sick, so we had nobody coming in and giving us any breaks, and I still had to do my job.”
Beckinger said that the combination of trying to adjust to working from home while taking care of her own children and feeling like the community was turning against teachers affected her mental health during the past year.
“I got kind of depressed last summer and I remember one night just crying in the kitchen, telling my husband, […] ‘I’m gonna lose my mind,’” Beckinger said. “It was hard. It was emotionally harder than I could have anticipated. Harder than life usually is for sure.”
Eberle said that she felt very lucky because her children are teenagers and need less looking after during the day.
“I can’t imagine having small children who need to be supervised and entertained—that just blows my mind,” Eberle said.
She said that throwing herself into her work actually helped take her mind off of the pandemic at times.
“So actually for some of us, I think being so busy really gave us a focus,” Eberle said. “It almost helped us handle this strange situation because our energy was in preparing for the classes, so it kept us grounded.”
Although this year has been hard on both teachers and students, for Eberle, the hardest past remained the same throughout: reaching her “unreachable” students.
“I’ve gone to people’s houses to drop off materials, but I don’t really have the capacity to do home visits with my personal family life and schedule,” Eberle said. “I can call home, but even if your parents think that you’re online, it doesn’t mean that you’re actually logging in. It doesn’t mean you’re actually paying attention to the lesson instead of doing something else on your computer. If [students] don’t want to be reached, they can stay completely disconnected.”
Beckinger added that though she is looking forward to the fall and is excited to be back in the classroom, she is worried about how the pandemic might change the education profession moving forward.
“I do worry that we’ll go into a bit of a supply and demand issue,” Beckinger said. “I think people are leaving, or wanting to leave, more than people are wanting to come in after seeing the way teachers have been treated and what they’ve gone through this past year.”
Written by: Katie DeBenedetti — firstname.lastname@example.org