By Jennifer Vorih, Esq., Ty Hyderally, Esq.
Since New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy issued his first Executive Order regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, parents have been wondering if and when their children would be returning to school in the classroom. While the lockdown and the reopening of schools has had a huge impact on parents, it has had an even large impact on teachers and other school employees.
Most school teachers in Montclair and elsewhere did not study and train to teach students remotely. But due to the pandemic, Montclair teachers have been out of the classroom since the beginning of March. As discussed in an earlier blog, the Montclair Public Schools will start off this school year in a fully remote manner. (https://www.employmentlit.com/2020/08/24/got-young-kids-need-to-return-to-the-workplace-good-luck/)
Thus, teachers in Montclair are fortunate, in the sense that they do not yet have to come in daily contact with dozens of students and colleagues. Many teachers in other states and other New Jersey school districts are returning to and have already returned to the workplace, putting them at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. In addition, many teachers returning to school are concerned about bringing the virus home to their families, which may include young children or at-risk family members. Teachers in New York City are currently considering striking due to safety concerns related to the pandemic.
Another clear risk already being felt by hundreds, if not thousands, of school employees across the country, is disruption in teaching. Some school districts opened up for the fall semester, only to shut down immediately due to students and/or employees contracting the disease. Still other schools have had to quarantine portions of their student and employee populations, due to infection. The stress of returning to work under these circumstances, not knowing if and when they will have to again work from home, can be overwhelming.
On the other hand, teaching from home, to students who are learning from home, raises its own problems. Many teachers find that teaching remotely is not as satisfying. Teachers miss connecting with students, helping them meet challenges, helping students learn to work together, and doing what they can to get students to find their “aha” moment, when the lightbulb turns on. Each of these things is much more difficult to achieve remotely. For teachers of younger students, maintaining classroom control is particularly important, and incredibly difficult to do remotely, when the “classroom” is spread out among twenty-five or so homes. We can expect that teachers may suffer from depression and anxiety at an increased rate, due to the inability to do their jobs as well as, and in the manner, they are used to. Their employers will need to respond with reasonable accommodations, as appropriate.
We can also expect to see increased rates of certain work-related medical issues which are not typical for school teachers, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and back problems. Again here, schools will need to make reasonable accommodations. Teachers, who are used to moving around the classroom and school building throughout the day, now must spend their days in front of computer screens – welcoming students, explaining assignments, posting assignments, teaching, reviewing students’ work, grading and returning assignments, etc. Teachers starting the school year remotely will also have to find a way to meet their new students via screens and encourage them to become community.
While Montclair teachers do not yet have to worry about the dangers and difficulties of returning to the classroom, they are facing plenty of other challenges in their employment.
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