Clara Barton teacher: ‘I tried to give space for [students] to talk and say what they needed to say’

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

Traditionally today is Lake Day at Barton. The whole school would be down at Lake Harriet right now. There would be a program at the bandshell, with older kids sitting with their younger buddies. Then we would bring the seventh- and eighth-graders back to school and we’d have the eighth-grade graduation program for the last hour of the day. 

This year that program is in the form of a video. We are encouraging folks to have this synchronous viewing of it from wherever they are. Then after that, the teachers will jump on Google Meet for a final meet and greet.

Staff have been at school Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of this week returning materials to families. Eighth-graders have this portfolio of their work going back to kindergarten in some cases, so we’re returning that back to them. That’s been fun to be standing out curbside and have kids come out.

The last week of school is always kind of a scramble. You’re trying to finish things up and help kids that are behind. It’s really hard to help kids catch up virtually. That’s one of my take-home messages. You got to get them with you as fast as you can.

Even if everything else had been “normal,” George Floyd’s murder would have affected how kids did school. Last week, when kids were still more present in classes online, I tried to give space for them to talk and say what they needed to say. Students spoke about being upset that they were watching small businesses burn down, that it wasn’t right and wasn’t what this was supposed to be about. A lot of kids were really active in going to protests and watching a lot on TV. But I also feel really disconnected to what they were thinking because I just talked to a small segment of them. When you can’t be with them live in person, you don’t have a good handle of where they’re at.

I’m saying goodbye to Barton this week. I have accepted a position to be a sixth-grade science teacher at Justice Page Middle School next year. There was a time I thought I would retire from Barton. There’s been a long history in education where that’s kind of how things work, but that’s not the reality of what’s going on in our district right now. Returning to Page, where I taught previously, is a great opportunity for me, but I have such mixed emotions. It’s really hard to leave a community that I love and I’m really invested in.

In some ways I’m at a loss for what to think about the last three months. I know that in the moment, I did the very best that I could, but I also have this incredibly long list of things to do better. It’s just been so hard for the kids, and it’s been so hard for the youngest kids.

If we can’t be back in person in the fall, we have to do so many things differently, including holding live classes. We have to say to students, “Your job is to go to school today, and that means you’re going to be on this class from this time to this time.” We were hesitant to say that because of really important equity issues, but I feel like we inadvertently set the bar low by doing that. It might mean I’m teaching one of my classes at 8 p.m., but we have to create a situation where kids are interacting with more than their screen, because that social piece of learning is just essential. We haven’t done that well enough or at all in some cases.

I don’t know how I feel about having a summer break. Usually on the last day of school you’re just, like, desperate. You haven’t slept, you’re doing these incredibly long days and you’re doing these trips with kids. You get to the end and you’re just exhausted. This year I don’t feel that at all, and yet there is this fatigue. But if you said, “You can go into the classroom with kids tomorrow,” I’d say yes. In the one sense, I do really need a break and I need to walk away, and on the other hand, I would be back tomorrow if we could go back to school as it was.


VOICES FROM THE PANDEMIC

 You can read all of the stories here.