From Texas Tech Public Media:
While school districts across Texas map out their back to school plans, schools in Lubbock welcomed students back this week. Not all teachers were on board with returning in person. Some chose to resign as late as Sunday in response. Nonetheless, kids packed their backpacks and returned to the classroom.
Wednesday was the first day of in-person classes in over five months at Lubbock Cooper High School. It’s a different return from summer for economics teacher David Ring, and not just because he’s teaching in a new school district this year.
There are 24 seniors in this class. Several wear their white “Class of 2021” T-shirts accessorized with a mask — but not everyone is wearing one. They’re spaced out as much as possible and all facing forward. A white bucket at the entrance of the classroom has sanitizing wipes and extra masks beside it. Aside from these small pieces of sanitary evidence, it’s easy to forget the pandemic exists. But it does.
“This class is about the same size as my previous one,” Ring said, motioning to the classroom. “I had 38 students in a class this size and I couldn’t walk among them.” The room fits about 30 desks, comfortably. It’s hard to imagine squeezing more. They were desk to desk. [This year] I’ve done my best to set up as much as I can 6-foot distancing.”
Ring explained, a teacher’s main job is to educate, but they do so much more than that.
“We are amateur psychologists and sociologists,” he said. “Unfortunately sometimes, we are fill-in guardians. We are life counselors and so on and so forth.”
This year, teachers’ additional duties include cleaning desks between classes, monitoring bathroom capacity and distributing hand sanitizer to students. Regardless, Ring returned to teaching. “I don’t think I would have come back if I wasn’t comfortable with what they’re doing at Lubbock-Cooper High.”
Not everyone is comfortable with what their schools are doing. Lubbock Cooper ISD is the third district in Lubbock to return to in-person instruction this week. Frenship and Lubbock ISDs welcomed students back to campuses on Monday.
Teachers say the road to reopening wasn’t a smooth one. Throughout the summer, districts around the state struggled to keep up with contradictory messages from the Texas Education Agency, or TEA, regarding reopening. The final state guidelines came in the middle of July — a month before school started in Lubbock.
This left a lot of teachers frustrated; some even felt disregarded.
“Honestly, if our district had decided to start virtually, or like, even until Labor Day, I would not have been looking for other jobs.”
That’s a former Lubbock ISD teacher. She didn’t feel comfortable with us using her real name, so we’ll call her “Anne.” She resigned from Lubbock ISD over the summer.
Anne always wanted to be a teacher. She loved the classroom and her students, even when the work was difficult.
“Teaching is hard, it’s really hard and I had already a heavy workload,” she said. “I was also very nervous about what the district was pursuing going forward in teaching with the pandemic and the lack of teacher voice. I feel like it was just like death by a thousand cuts.”
Clinton Gill is the Lubbock ISD representative for the Texas State Teacher Association, or TSTA. It advocates on behalf of teachers for things like pay raises and benefits—and provide legal protection. It also handles complaints from teachers, and he’s received a lot about schools returning to in-person.
“I’ve had a few [teachers] resign or retire in the last week or so,” Gill said.
“They were holding out to the very last minute to see if everybody would go virtual, instead of face to face, but that didn’t happen.”
Lubbock ISD established a planning committee for reopening schools. They involved teacher associations, like TSTA, in an effort to get unified teacher feedback. Gill was part of the committee.
He sent a survey to Lubbock ISD teachers about reopening and about half responded. He used that to help inform the committee on behalf of teachers. According to the feedback he received, there was a mixture of people who wanted to go back, and a lot who didn’t feel comfortable.
Ultimately, the push for in-person school came from necessity. Lubbock ISD Superintendent, Kathy Rollo listed out major driving forces: “70 percent of our kids’ parents wanted and needed face to face,” she said.
Also, 70% of LISD students live in poverty. “They don’t always have the support system that they need to successfully navigate remote learning,” Rollo explained. Child abuse is another concern. If teachers don’t see students in person, often-times cases go undetected. “I mean, I could go on and on,” she said.
If anything, the pandemic has highlighted the complexities of public education, according to Ring. “It’s a great opportunity for us to look at public education differently,” he said, “and hopefully hit the reset button and see … what we’re going to expect from educators.”
The bell sounds off throughout the halls, signaling the end of Ring’s first day of school. And while one teacher reflects on the start of a new year, another former teacher reflects on her decision to leave. It felt odd not to be a part of “back to school” this year, but Anne doesn’t regret her decision to resign. On Monday, she sent her former colleagues a text saying “good luck” and carried on with her new workload.
“I didn’t have good boundaries and I let that drain me. I should have said no more,” Anne reflected. “But you know, at some point: enough. I’m not going to martyr myself for a job.”
For this story, Texas Tech Public Media spoke with six current and former teachers of Lubbock ISD who did not feel comfortable going on the record out of concern of retaliation.