Clara Barton teacher: ‘The new school year never goes away from your thinking.’

Tracey Schultz
Tracey Schultz

The Southwest Journal is documenting the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. As the outbreak evolves, we will be checking in with the participants regularly. Read all of the stories here.

All interviews are edited for length and clarity.

Tracey Schultz, science teacher, Clara Barton Open School

Today is my first Monday of actual summer vacation. I spent last week in a Minneapolis Public Schools training on a new [science, technology, engineering and math] curriculum for middle grades science and math teachers. It’s a curriculum that I really wanted to be trained in and have some exposure to. My partner and I have a family place in the mountains of Idaho where we’ll spend July. I just ordered the book “How to Be an Antiracist,” and I’ll read that. I feel a real strong personal responsibility to continue thinking how we can best support all of our kids so that they can be successful. The fact remains that we have a huge number of kids in MPS that we need to serve much better. I won’t take July off from thinking about that.

I haven’t had much contact with students this summer. A couple of kids have reached out about my leaving Barton and going to a different school. [Schultz has taken a position at Justice Page Middle School.] I’ve had one student whose life circumstances are just really hard who reached out and indicated that they maybe wanted to do some more work. If kids want to reach out, they certainly know how. I’ve never before had a point in my career where all my kids had my cell phone number.

The new school year never goes away from your thinking. Districts have to create three models: distance learning, being fully back in school and a hybrid model. The state has said they’re going to announce their decision by July 27. Each of those plans has enormous challenges that come with it.

I’m hoping we’re back in school. That’s the way to go for kids, and I’d be so excited to be in my new classroom and meeting my new students face-to-face, but I do worry a bit about staying healthy myself, because I have parents who are older. I’ll be seeing 150-some kids a day, and how do we stay safe and healthy as teachers so we can be there every day for kids?

On the other side of the equation, if we’re distance learning, how do you do that with kids you have never spent face-to-face time with? That is truly the hardest scenario I think for me as a teacher, and I don’t want to worry about that unless I need to worry about that. Part of why my [Barton] colleagues and I were as successful as we were getting nearly everybody engaged [in distance learning] is because we had relationships with those kids from two-thirds of the school year already. In some cases, the year before and two-thirds of this past year.

The middle scenario is kind of a quagmire, too. I can’t quite wrap my head around how I would be a live, in-person teacher and a distance learning teacher at the same time. My understanding is that kids would come from some instruction and then they’d be home. It is really all-consuming to be a live, in-person teacher at the start of the school year. You don’t really come up for air until [the MEA break in October]. I cannot figure out how I would do that and have a quality online component for kids.

For most people I’ve talked to, being in school is what kids and families want while also balancing safety. People have jobs and they need to be able to do their jobs. Because I worked at a K-8 school and had closer contact with teachers of the youngest learners, I think we all worry so much about what [remote instruction] means for literacy development. It’s pretty scary to think.

If we’re back in person, we have a whole new set of conversations that happen.

I have to be really comfortable wearing a mask and really good about that so that I model that for kids. That doesn’t mean they feel great about wearing a mask, but I have to be at peace with that. My communication is hugely nonverbal, so to have this big part of my face covered up, that’s going to be hard.

There will be other challenges like, How do we handle materials in class? I don’t want to fill the garbage cans with bleach wipes, but on the other hand, it’s probably not going to be realistic to blast all of our lab materials with UV between classes. You’d probably need to have a new element of cleanup where somebody takes a bleach wipe and wipes off all of the materials you’ve used.

I hope that kids are taking a break over the summer but not too much of a break. I hope that kids are reading. Hopefully they are keeping their mind engaged. I’m sure they want to take a break from their email, but it’s really hard not to send them an email about, for example, the summer solstice. The bottom line is that I hope everyone is safe. I hope everyone is getting to take a break, but then we’ve also got to make sure we’re as ready to go as we can be. I guess I say that with some feelings of hope but also some feelings of anxiety. I’ve also been thinking about if this is a time when we can truly rethink the school calendar. Three months off is not a model that aligns with what we know about brain development.


VOICES FROM THE PANDEMIC

 You can read all of the stories here.