Teaching During a Pandemic: Teachers of the Year Reflect on Difficult Times

Teaching During a Pandemic: Teachers of the Year Reflect on Difficult Times

March 14, 2020 was a big day for education in North Carolina. That afternoon Governor Roy Cooper announced the closing of all schools in North Carolina in response to COVID-19, and education in our state (and across the world) has been in a state of flux ever since.

Interestingly enough, at the time of Governor Cooper’s announcement, the North Carolina chapter of the National Network of Teachers of the Year was also holding their first hybrid meeting in which educators from the eight different education regions in our state were to meet at the home of an educator in the region and connect with the other regions virtually. We were also welcoming our inaugural cohort of the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching Beginning Teachers of the Year. Due to increasing COVID numbers, only one region was able to meet in person and the rest of us all joined from the virtual safety of our own homes. It was a hybrid educational space, and it was a harbinger of what was to come.

As cell phones started pinging with predictions of what Governor Cooper would share at his press conference, we made the decision to adjourn our meeting abruptly so educators could watch the announcement that would change our profession so drastically.

After the dust cleared, our executive committee knew that future NC-NNSTOY meetings would have to look as different as the classrooms in our state. We met informally as a support network in preparation for the 2020-2021 school year, and we created a different type of agenda for our fall meeting.

On October 2, 2020, almost seven months after our initial school closures, a small group of tired educators met for our fall meeting with one purpose in mind: to elevate teacher voices during a time when so many of us felt like our voices were not being heard. In an organic process, topics of interest were identified and an action plan was created. The consensus? To create a blog series on the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of teachers, students, and caregivers.

Over the next two months, a group with a range of experiences met to write three collaborative blog posts. Our group included the inaugural NC Beginning Teacher of the Year, a Regional Finalist for NC Teacher of the Year, and five NC Teachers of the Year, including a National Teacher of the Year Finalist and a NEA Foundation National Teacher of the Year. Our years of experience ranged from three years of teaching to a retiree who has returned to education in a charter school, and our areas of expertise included elementary, middle, and high school, including science, English, and the arts.

As we met, we got a chance to collaborate on an end result virtually, much like many of our students are doing right now. We also learned that the relationships formed during our sessions when we chatted about our educational struggles, frustrations, and successes fed our social-emotional needs and were just as important as the end result. By elevating our voices, we also got to share our voices with like-minded others and solidify friendships beyond collegiality.

The three posts that follow are the result of research, conversation, writing, editing, commiserating, and even a little laughter. In a world where we can all feel so isolated, we need the support of others now more than ever--even if that support comes through the screen of a Zoom call or a Google Meet. We hope that by sharing the very real struggles of teachers, students, and caregivers during this pandemic and some suggestions to help overcome these challenges that we can provide a little bit of the positive community of support that we discovered over the past couple of months. Our wish for you is that you can find the same to help you as we navigate an educational landscape that is forever changed.

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