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Justice Page teacher: ‘I’ve definitely had less kid drama’

December 23, 2020

This community reporting project documents the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. All interviews are conducted over the phone, and conversations are edited for length and clarity.

Tracey Schultz, science teacher, Justice Page Middle School

We’re on winter break now, and nothing feels the way it has felt before. Normally, as a teacher, you just barely make it to winter break — it’s ugly, the minutes are ticking down, there’s so much going on, you’re so tired. And this just didn’t feel like that at all. We all feel tired, but it’s a different kind of tired. 

It’s a little hard to know what to do workwise. It’s important to really get away from it all, but I also want to take time to figure out what I want to do when we get back. The silver lining of this whole pandemic teaching mess is we’ve had to reinvent everything at every step of the way. On positive thing: I’m so much more in touch with the families of my students. It’s crazy to be this many years in and be reinventing what you do, but it’s also kind of exciting. 

There’s a remote possibility we can be back live and in person at some point this year. The vaccine is progressing and we’re on the docket to be in group 1B. With sixth-graders, if we were in person, we’d do a lot of work with compound microscopes, discover cells and start talking about different types of living things. Obviously that’s really difficult to replicate in distance learning. So I keep holding that piece in my back pocket, because it would be so much better done in person.

You have to throw a big chunk of the curriculum out the window and pick and choose. So I’m toying around with whether I want to go deeper into types of energy and energy transformation or whether I want to launch into laws of motion and other topics. That’s what I’ve been thinking about over break. I have a lot of freedom. 

I just had a student reach out right at the beginning of winter break saying their family had to move because of COVID. There have been families that have been really sick, with everyone in the family having COVID, and they’re trying to navigate life and school. When students are joining you from where they are, that is where they are. That could be a shelter or it could be caring for their youngest sibling. It’s not unusual for a student to say, “Tracey, I’ll be right back, I have to make the [baby] bottle quick.”

As adults, we talk a ton about what it’s like for kids to see the inside of each others’ homes. We don’t want a kid to feel uncomfortable because, say, they’re living in a shelter and that’s their video background. It comes from a place of good intentions, but it misses the mark when we have worries for kids that aren’t their worries. I have kids from pretty challenging living environments for whom having the camera on just isn’t an issue. And good for them, I say! 

Some kids have friends they’ll meet with for lunch or will play outside with other kids in the neighborhood. That’s happening. There are also kids who are really lonely and feel like they haven’t made a friend yet. I think there’s less interpersonal drama overall, but I could be wrong about that. They are limited in how they interact: They’re not walking down the halls together or in a bathroom in a group. And there is some monitoring: If there’s something inappropriate, it’s documented, it’s there, we can work it out. As a teacher, I’ve definitely had way less kid drama. 

Of course, the whole other side is: How are we going to reintroduce kids to how we interact in person? My daughter teaches on the East Coast and has a small group of kids that have started coming back to school. And she says they’ve been making the weirdest noises. They had this mute button, so they could be humming or beeping or flicking or twiddling and no one was saying “shush.” So there will be repercussions to all these limitations in our social world. 

The other thing we have in Minneapolis is this huge reorganization of how the district works. School boundaries are being redrawn for the entire district. So while we’re in the midst of this, a huge percentage of our families have gotten the notification that they’ve been reassigned for next year. New programs are being developed. So it’s a lot of stress. Maybe it’s better to do a lot of change at once, but who knows. There are a lot of unknowns: How long am I doing this and when will I go back and where am I going next year?

Personally, I have some good routines. I have a running routine that works well for my daily needs and my mind. I am so grateful that I have this job. As hard as it is, as challenging as it is, as unsuccessful as I feel at it right now, I think this challenge has given me a little more career longevity. The kids are saying, “I miss school, I want to go back” and, when had I ever heard a whole homeroom of kids saying their wish for the new year was more time in school? It feels like there’s a little light at the end of the journey. 

We’ve had our scares. We’ve had some teachers who’ve gotten sick. This virus is everywhere, it’s just nasty. But, like Norah O’Donnell says, “Think positive, test negative.” That one has stayed with me as I’m on my fourth negative test. Woohoo!

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