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Optimism, Surprise, Concern
Teachers react to receiving vaccines and to the new back to school plan
February 5, 2021
Mathematics teacher Maggie Moore doesn’t cry often. But she did when she received her confirmation for her appointment to get her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. She was moved to tears of gratitude for scientists and healthcare workers who have been “fighting so hard for us all.”
East Lansing Public Schools (ELPS) announced in early January that teachers would be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination under the state vaccination plan. But with this news the district created a back-to-school plan that brought all teachers back in-person, unless extenuating circumstances prevent them from doing so.
During online school, Moore has been trying to focus on the positives throughout the year, hoping to have better mental health to balance out any physical health anxieties.
“A new challenge faces [East Lansing], and I’m going to do what I can to help my students and colleagues as we navigate together,” Moore wrote.
For Moore, this applies not only to vaccinations, but the accompanying plan to return to school. She is now able to be in a physical classroom with students again after Governor Gretchen Whitmer recommended that schools should reopen, and with the new return-to-school plan released Jan. 25.
While somewhat worried about how the needs of all students will be met in a hybrid format, she has missed the “energy and ease of conversation” within the classroom, something she hopes will return soon.
While students suffer online, teachers feel many of the same effects. Jade Bennett has seen her “mental health and general well being… suffer greatly” as a first year psychology teacher trying to make her way through online learning.
“I find that I very much rely on structure, having an established work environment separate from my home environment, and social connections to do my job in a way that I can feel proud of,” Bennet wrote in an email.
While this drives her support for a return to in-person learning, Bennett feels that it’s unfair to have everyone return just because she is struggling.
“I definitely felt blindsided by the new plan that was proposed for secondary education, which took away the teacher’s choice to remain virtual or return in-person,” Bennett wrote. “It was really unfortunate that we’ve been told from the beginning of the year that we would not be forced to adopt a hybrid model, so hearing of this for the first time did upset me.”
However, receiving the news that she would be able to get vaccinated offered a glimmer of hope for Bennett during a time when she has been reluctant to get her hopes up about anything pandemic related.
“It felt really exciting to me to be in line for the vaccine [on Jan. 25],” Bennett wrote. “Especially when I thought back to the beginning of the pandemic, and how much I wished that there was a vaccine at that time.”
The plan also surprised Mark Pontoni. He has been pleased with the “care and concern shown by our administration so far,” but he is not comfortable returning to in-person at this point because students are not going to be vaccinated.
“It makes little sense to say we’re returning to a safe environment when most of the people won’t be vaccinated,” Pontoni wrote in an email.
While he believes most people want to get back as soon as possible, he remains concerned about the abilities of the school to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19. Pontoni also believes that even with the safety measures, having a large number of people unvaccinated could be risky and cause any measures to fall short.
In addition, Pontoni is worried about potentially bringing the virus back to his wife, because she is not in a category that will be receiving the vaccine soon.
“There’s more at stake here than just staff and the students,” Pontoni wrote. “We all have families who stand to pay a price for us returning too soon.”
Despite these concerns, he has confidence that if new, more infectious strains of COVID start spreading, administration will keep schools closed, or close them.
While the unpredictability of new strains worries Moore as well, she feels that the safety of returning depends on the actions of students, as well as the number of returners.
“It needs to be said that much of the safety responsibility lies on the shoulders of our student body,” Moore wrote. “I can control my classroom environment but if students pile into each other’s cars after the final bell… our efforts in the building are all for naught.”