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A Tale of Two Teachers and Their Contrasting Realities




Blue State - Shira Brewer, High School Teacher

The Insider:

Hi Shira! What city do you live in?


Shira Brewer:

Seattle


The Insider:

And how old are you?


Shira Brewer:

42 next week.


The Insider:

What is your job title?


Shira Brewer:

High school math teacher


The Insider:

And what is the name of your school?


Shira Brewer:

Nathan Hale High School. It is in the Seattle school district


The Insider:

How many years have you been a teacher, and how many years have you been teaching at this school?


Shira Brewer:

This is my 7th year at Hale. It’s hard to be precise about how long I’ve been teaching because I took a cumulative few years off to be the full-time caregiver for my children when they were born, and I’ve done different types of teaching. Let’s say 13 years of classic classroom teaching


The Insider:

Has school started yet?


Shira Brewer:

Yes. We started with students yesterday


The Insider:

Which classes are you teaching this semester?


Shira Brewer:

I teach Algebra 1, which mostly contains freshmen—ninth graders. I teach part-time—60 percent--which gives me a nice work-life balance. That’s why I only teach one math subject. Most teachers teach at least two different levels


The Insider:

Are you teaching in person this semester?


Shira Brewer:

Yes!


The Insider:

How long has it been since you’ve done that?


Shira Brewer:

We taught some students in person last spring for nine weeks, but that was hybrid and I only saw each student once per week. So it has been since March 2020 that I’ve had full classes like I’m teaching now


The Insider:

How did it feel yesterday to be back?


Shira Brewer:

It actually felt really good! It’s always hard to say goodbye to summer but feeling the energy of having kids in person and being able to see them and work with them was really good. if I have to say goodbye to the relaxation of summer, this is how I want to do it. Though I wish we weren’t in a situation where we have to wear masks. It is so frustrating. But of course necessary. I would much prefer to see my students’ faces and to be able to teach without a mask. I do use a small microphone to help me not lose my voice.


The Insider:

Is it a rule that everyone in the school building wear a mask?


Shira Brewer:

Yes.

The Insider:

Was everyone complying yesterday?


Shira Brewer:

Yes.


The Insider:

Have there been protests in Seattle about mask mandates in the schools?

Shira Brewer:

If there have, I haven’t heard about them. There may be some small ones. But most people in this city are extremely compliant and actually go above whatever the guidelines are. If anything, parents are worried there aren’t enough precautions.


The Insider:

Have you been vaccinated?


Shira Brewer:

Of course! All school employees in the state are mandated to be vaccinated.


The Insider:

Is there also a vaccination mandate in your school? All school employees, meaning professional and not professional?


Shira Brewer:

Yes. Everyone in the building. Custodial, etc.


The Insider:

Were there employees who were vocally unhappy about that?


Shira Brewer:

I think so. No one I have talked to. But I think I have heard that on the news.

I think some bus drivers have quit, like in other districts around the country.


The Insider:

How did they establish yesterday that you were vaccinated?


Shira Brewer:

Oh. The mandate actually says that people must be vaccinated by a specific date in October


The Insider:

So you are still working with some unvaccinated people?


Shira Brewer:

Maybe. But I know that almost all staff in my building are vaccinated, if not everyone. People here were very enthusiastic to go out and get the vaccine as soon as they possibly could. Certainly, I don’t know about every single person. But I’m confident that most people work with are vaccinated


The Insider:

What is the situation with student vaccinations at your school?


Shira Brewer:

Since I teach high school, all students are eligible to be vaccinated, and many are. Last spring we had some vaccination clinics at our school and they were extremely well attended. I don’t know the percentage of students that is vaccinated.


The Insider:

Have you heard any students say that they will NOT be vaccinated?


Shira Brewer:

No but I haven’t asked them. I have only just met my current students. Last year, I had a lot of students who were excited about getting the vaccine. I don’t remember if any said they didn’t plan to.


The Insider:

You live in a very liberal part of the country. I know that in many other places, there are tensions about this.

Shira Brewer:

You are absolutely right. Here, most people I know are so done with people who don’t help the common cause by getting vaccinated. We absolutely blame folks who chose not to get vaccinated for our current situation with the spread of Delta and having to go back to wearing masks everywhere. I’m at a loss for words at this point


The fact that so many Republican politicians chose to make this a political issue and to spread disinformation about the vaccines is a complete tragedy on so many levels with far-reaching repercussions all over the country and world.


The Insider:

Will there be intermittent Covid testing as well?


Shira Brewer:

I’m not sure about the intermittent Covid testing. Testing is available for suspected cases. Oh, and people staying home when they are not feeling well.


The Insider:

The big question: Are you nervous about Covid now being back in the classroom?


Shira Brewer:

Certainly, the risk is higher now, and that is a worry but I’m willing to see how this goes because teaching remotely was such a bad option. I hope that with masks and hand hygiene, we can make this work. Time will tell.

The Insider:

Do you expect to find out that your students have suffered educationally because of last year’s remote teaching?


Shira Brewer:

Absolutely. There will be a wide range of what students know. There is always a range but now it will be more extreme. We’ll sort it out! If I had been in charge of schools last year, things would’ve been very different. But since I wasn’t and since there were so many different experiences for students, we will teach from where we are at this moment.


And there will be lots of differentiation–giving students what they need individually. And we will gauge as we go and slow down as needed


The Insider:

In what way would you have made things different?


Shira Brewer:

Camera use would have been the expectation, with exceptions as needed, instead of letting students choose whether or not to turn on their cameras. They would have been much more engaged if we all could have seen each other.


The expectations for student work were also drastically lowered, and while it was necessary to have flexibility since not all students have the same resources, we should have still had expectations and then been able to make accommodations as needed. Because the expectations were so low, it allowed students to do very little, and that was detrimental to their learning.


The Insider:

It’s a cliche that kids don’t want to go back to school in the fall. But I bet the students were thrilled to be back yesterday. True?


Shira Brewer:

They seemed excited to be there! And today too! They are happy to see people in person and be in school. Of course, it’s just the first week, but I’m gonna be optimistic.



Red State - "Mike Peters," High School Teacher



The Insider:

Hi Mike. You’ve asked that we not use your real name so you can speak more freely. Do you teach in a conservative part of the country?


Mike Peters:

Yes.


The Insider:

Red state?


Mike Peters:

Yes


The Insider:

Tell me about your job.


Mike Peters:

I'm a high school teacher


The Insider:

What subjects do you teach? What grades?


Mike Peters:

World History for sophomores


The Insider:

Public school?


Mike Peters:

Yes


The Insider:

Urban area?


Mike Peters:

Yes


The Insider:

How many years have you been teaching?


Mike Peters:

Ten years.


The Insider:

Has school started yet?


Mike Peters:

Yes. We are four weeks into school.


The Insider:

Are you 100% back in the classroom now? Were you remote last year?


Mike Peters:

My district was not remote last year.


The Insider:

So you’ve been in-person during the whole pandemic?


Mike Peters:

Kids could choose a remote option, and about 10-12% did so at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. Any kids who failed two classes or more in the 2020 Fall Semester had to come back to in person, unless they had a doctor's note.


The Insider:

And now?


Mike Peters:

This school year, kids choosing remote learning are put together in separate classes. Unlike last year, no classes have to contend with a blend of learners.


The Insider:

Is the percentage breakdown the same now? About 10 percent remote?


Mike Peters:

No. Very few are remote kids this year.


The Insider:

Were there any health problems last year because school was in person? Were there any Covid outbreaks in your district?


Mike Peters:

No. We had a mask mandate for all students in the district, and the kids did a good job complying all year. The district had no serious outbreaks. We followed CDC guidelines for contract tracing


The Insider:

Did any of the teachers get Covid?


Mike Peters:

Yes. We had a couple, but nothing severe. The biggest problem was finding subs to cover when teachers were in quarantine, as per CDC. Most subs are older retired teachers, and this was before vaccination was available.


The Insider:

What are the vaccination rules now in your school? Do all teachers need to be vaccinated?


Mike Peters:

Last March, our district and a couple nearby received the first batch of the J&J vax. As per our union, we are well above the 80% threshold for vaxxed teachers on staff. The J&J program was handled by our union, the city, local medical facilities and hospitals.. The state had nothing to do with it. There are no vax requirements in district.


The Insider:

How about your students? Are most of them vaccinated?


Mike Peters:

We have no numbers on student vaccinations, and I'm not about to ask them.


The Insider:

What’s your intuition?


Mike Peters:

I'm feeling my sophomores are probably about 25-35% vax. A bit higher with older kids, and lower with freshmen. Just a gut feeling.


The Insider:

Have there been disputes in your area about masks?


Mike Peters:

Yes. Typical irrational complaints, plus a governor who is against them. No school board civilian antics as of yet.


The Insider:

Have there been demonstrations?


Mike Peters:

Small ones in the city, but nothing directly towards our school district.


The Insider:

Do teachers talk with students about vaccines or masks at all, or is that considered off limits?


Mike Peters:

Vax, no. Masks have not come up much this year. Vaccines are a sensitive issue, especially with minors.


The Insider:

Is everyone required to wear a mask in the building at your high school? If so, do they comply?


Mike Peters:

Masks are not required, only suggested. Few kids and staff members wear one. The staff who do are those with little kids at home, or a few who are grandparents


The Insider:

When were you vaccinated? Do you wear a mask at school?

Mike Peters:

March 5. I expect a booster recommendation for the J&J and will happily get it. I don't wear a mask. I have an eight-foot "bubble" from where I teach. My direct contact up close is rare.


The Insider:

Bottom line: does the mask and vaccination situation in your school worry you?

Mike Peters:

No. We have a strong union that actively ensures our concerns are addressed, and, so far, a school board that has worked with the union. All classes have hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.


The Insider:

Have there been any cases of students with Covid in your school? Do you think your students worry about catching it?


Mike Peters:

I've had students in my classes get Covid this year, but we have a contact tracer on site who quickly contacts those who need to be monitored. Overall fear is not high.


The Insider:

You’ll think I’m being a smart aleck, but I mean this seriously. Did Donald Trump win your state in 2020? I’m guessing he did.


Mike Peters:

Yes, he won the state. The state vax rate about 53%.


The Insider:

Is the Covid rate high?


Mike Peters:

The state Covid rate is rising quickly.


The Insider:

I’m not surprised. Many thanks for talking with us!


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