Virus, technology, unrest make stressful year for teachers

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First-year teacher Cindy Hipps stands outside of Lagos Elementary School, at Manor Independent School District campus east of Austin, Texas where she has taught first grade in a virtual and in-person hybrid classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hipps said she was told she "was introduced to the ring of fire of teaching." "I feel like a superwoman now, like I can take on anything. (Acacia Coronado/Report for America via AP)

MANOR, Texas – The school bell rings, and about a dozen masked first-graders turn to the monitor and wave hello to their classmates — each a tiny Zoom square representing the other half of the class. The teacher — standing behind a plexiglass wall — shares her screen, grabs a pointer, juggles a laptop, projector, marker and board and embarks on another act of her one-woman show.

Ana Saul Romero has seen many changes in teaching methods, testing and technology during her four decades as a teacher. But the past year packed in a lifetime's worth of tumult.

“It's difficult for me — I am a baby boomer — it is difficult with the technology, and I have learned more, but it is not enough, it is never enough,” Romero said as she reminisced on the personal connections she made with students when she could see them every day in-person.

This spring marks a year since the coronavirus pandemic shut down schools across the U.S., forcing many students, parents and teachers into virtual classrooms. As scientists learned more about the virus and states eased restrictions on gathering, some students returned to school while others kept learning at home — but they all had to be taught. Many classrooms became a simultaneous combination of virtual and in-person instruction, like Romero's class in the Austin suburb of Manor.

There was a learning curve for teachers, and inequalities in Wi-Fi and technology access added to the stresses, as did social and political unrest that gripped the nation over that period. Now districts everywhere are grappling with exhausted educators wondering if this academic year will be their last.

Educators have coped with their own personal and family impacts of the pandemic, while trying to support students dealing with academic struggles, food insecurity, trauma and social isolation, said Antoinette Miranda, an Ohio State University professor of school psychology who is also on her state’s school board and married to a high school teacher.

“We talk a lot about the stress on students," Miranda said, "but I think there’s a tremendous amount of stress on teachers.”

As they raised health and safety concerns about resuming in-person classes, some people blamed them for holding up reopenings that could ease pressure on parents.