AEA rep talks about teacher concerns she’s hearing

What issues are teachers seeing as students return to class?

MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WAFF) - Students and teachers in Madison County are adjusting once again this school year as they now have a few days of being back to in-person learning under their belts.

However, Beverly Sims with the Alabama Education Association said she’s talking to a lot of teachers who are struggling right now.

Sims is in charge of District 3 of the AEA, which represents teachers and faculty at Madison County Schools and Madison City Schools.

Sims said one of the issues she’s hearing from teachers most about right now is the challenges of teaching students in-person and online.

“Teachers cannot do both, they simply cannot,” she said. “What looks good on paper does not work in the classroom.”

Sims said she wants to work with the Madison City and Madison County systems to see what changes can be made to make the difficult jobs teachers are doing easier.

John Peck, Madison City Schools Spokesperson, and Tim Hall, Madison County Schools spokesperson, both said they’re systems are working to adjust and evaluate practices as they get more accustomed to having students back in classrooms.

On the issue of teachers doing both in-person and virtual instruction, Peck said, “While it’s challenging, we have several teachers in the district who volunteered for this type of format and seem to be successful.”

Hall, from Madison County Schools said, “Many of our schools have designated virtual/remote teachers. In some schools, educators are teaching both face to face and remotely with both modified and unmodified schedules to accommodate teaching both.”

Peck also added that teachers doing both is almost inevitable.

“With the fact that students may have to be quarantined for certain periods of time, all teachers may encounter this hybrid type situation in order to ensure our students continue to receive quality instruction. In our elementary schools, where we’ve had students quarantined, this seems to be working quite well.”

Sims is also hearing concerns over teachers getting sick, not only their own concerns about their health, but also what would happen to their class. With a shortage of substitute teachers, Sims is worried students could be split into different classrooms when their teacher has to quarantine. Sims said this would then make it harder for those classes to social distance.

“You can’t really space out even before you start putting more kids in there and then when you start putting more kids in there, then you really are in trouble because you cannot social distance with that many kids,” Sims said.

Hall said they’ll look for a sub for that teacher’s class before splitting up children into other classrooms.

“If a substitute is not available, we work to provide in-school coverage. This year, as in other years, we certainly could use more substitutes.” he said.

In Madison City Schools, Peck said it has not been their practice to split students into other classrooms, but, so far, teachers getting sick hasn’t been too big of a problem and they did just get some good news.

“This has not really been an issue in MCS because teacher absenteeism has been very low. In addition, the district learned of additional substitutes that are available to us,” Peck said.

Sims is also looking for ways to help fix the problems her teachers are running into, one solution she said she’s hearing from her teachers is to use an A/B schedule for students who are learning in-person. This would be where one group of students comes on Monday and Tuesday and is virtual Wednesday through Friday and another group comes on Thursday and Friday and is virtual Monday through Wednesday. On top of this, Sims said teachers she’s talking to are also wanting to have Wednesday as a plan day, where no students are learning and it’s all focused on teachers preparing lessons and cleaning.

“We’ve got to have a happy medium, we’ve got to have some give and take," Sims said. "Everyone I’m hearing from, for the most part, is saying if we could just have a Wednesday to plan, to tape our instructional videos, to clean.”

Both Hall and Peck said they have eased back into the start of the school year with an A/B schedule but their goal is to return to students who choose to learn in-person being at the school five days a week.

For Madison County, that transition is happening this week. Last week, they started with an A/B schedule to help teachers adjust, now all student who have chosen to are back in the classroom.

“We have heard that last week was very successful and our teachers and staff appreciated the transition week. We continue to follow our school reopening plan. We are at Level 1 of our plan. We are continually monitoring the data to keep our students and staff as safe as possible. Moving to an A/B schedule would occur, if our district moved to Level 2. In that situation, we would have our school system or an individual school move to an A/B schedule,” Hall said.

At Madison City Schools, the schools that have restarted are on the A/B schedule.

“While the A/B rotation is part of our phased-in return to school, our goal, like most districts, is for school-based learners to be on a full schedule daily,” Peck said.

Sims said she is hoping to work with both Madison County Schools Superintendent Allen Perkins and Madison City Schools Superintendent Dr. Ed Nichols about how they could implement some changes to help teachers. Both Hall and Peck said their superintendents have been in contact with Sims.

With all of these changes happening around them, Sims said teachers are obviously feeling heightened stress. She said she’s talked to teachers who are considering resigning because the job has become too difficult.

Both Hall and Peck said they’ve heard or seen these concerns as well.

“AEA has shared this concern regarding teachers resigning. These are unprecedented times and people are being challenged to make difficult, personal decisions. Our district continues to work with our school administrators and schools to provide solutions regarding teacher concerns. Coincidentally, Superintendent Allen Perkins has a meeting this week with his teacher advisory council,” Hall said.

“We had some resignations earlier out of concerns of COVID-19,” said Peck. “We’ve not seen an increase in this since face-to face instruction began at our elementary schools on Sept. 8.”

Another concern Sims has is for her bus drivers, who are working to get students to and from school, all the while trying to keep everything clean and reduce the spread of the virus. She said concerns rose when a Madison County bus driver tested positive.

“I would ask any parent who had the ability to take their child to school and pick their child up from school to do that while we’re going through this pandemic, because it makes it easier on the bus driver and makes it a whole lot safer for every child and driver on that bus," Sims said.

What both the school systems and the AEA want is support for their teachers. Sims said the narative from March and early on in the pandemic has changed.

She said in March there was so much appreciation for all teachers did, but now they’re seeing a lot more negative comments on social media.

“They started being attacked again," Sims said. "Our poor teachers are fed up because they are giving, I promise you, they are giving 150% and still are not getting the respect they deserve.”

Sims said now is the time for the community to rally around their teachers and other school faculty to support them anyway they can.

“If you think positive things about your teacher and you see that teacher doing positive things, or your bus driver, or your cafeteria worker, or anybody else that you see that is making a positive impact on your child, please tell them thank you and that you appreciate them,” she said.

For more information on the return to school for Madison City School system and the Madison County School systems, you can find more details on those systems' websites.

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