The Longest Spring Break: One Year of Learning in a Pandemic

The education community experienced myriad changes in 2020-21

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Spring Break 2020 seemed to go on forever. Families on vacation came home to learn their schools were closed; parents were forced to keep kids home and slowly go from just keeping kids occupied to having to keep them educated.

Teachers were the heroes right off the bat in the pandemic and praised for the patience and work they do. Countless messages popped up on social media thanking teachers for sitting at home and supporting parents thrust into the unthinkable.  

"I didn't go to school to be a teacher, and I do not know what I'm doing," Maran Wiebe said of her attempts to teach her children at home.

In the early days of the pandemic in Crowley ISD, teachers raided their classrooms to look for anything they could use to teach at home over Zoom -- then new to many of them.

Teachers were creative in making homemade, virtual lessons from home to help parents try to teach something.

When Teacher Appreciation Week rolled around, teachers gave thanks to parents.

In Castleberry ISD in River Oaks, teachers lined the street around the school, honking and waving at parents as they came to pick up hot lunches. The teachers said the parents were the teachers and deserved some love.

"Every year our parents turn out for us and this year, we thought about it last week, 'You know what? Let's flip it around,'" Castleberry ISD teacher Ronie Rosales said.

But the love was short-lived.

By summer, many parents and teachers were at odds over the education of children. There were protests in the streets of Fort Worth as the teachers begged not to return to classrooms and parents insisted they do their job and return to normal.

There were late-night school board meetings that went in circles over how and when to safely return to the classroom.

"I've already done the math," Dallas ISD teacher Kristen Derocha said. "My classroom is not set up for more than 12 students at 6 feet apart." 

Most schools saw less than half the students back in the classroom, with the remainder learning at home. Teachers were forced to do double duty, teaching the same things in person and then turning to the computer and repeating themselves for those students at home.

When the technology failed, and there were internet outages in the buildings, teachers found ways to keep going. In one example, Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD teacher Lauren Marsh grabbed her cellphone, ran out to her car where she had a stronger signal, and kept teaching from the school parking lot.

Then there was Stephany Hume in Garland ISD, who kept teaching even though her body was worn.

"In the hospital, going to have some surgery, but didn't want you to miss the last part of your book," she told her students over Zoom.

They kept working, motivated by something we all suspected -- our kids had fallen dangerously behind academically.

One statistic from Dallas ISD showed just 13% of sixth graders learning on level.

Some school leaders pleaded with families to send students back to the classroom.

And as time went by, some did. The number of students back in the classroom seemed to grow every nine weeks.

The number of cases of the virus went up too. Teachers were falling victim themselves, so when a vaccine finally came, teachers thought they would be some of the first in line -- but that too didn't happen. 

"They want to call teachers essential workers but you don't want to put us higher up in the line," Arlington ISD teacher Kim Martinez said. "We work in one of the germiest places next to the hospital."

After Gov. Greg Abbott lifted capacity limits and his mask mandate, it created uncertainty about whether teachers would be in the classroom without masks. School leaders put their foot down.

"We don't know when they're going to be in the queue to get vaccines and that's a problem," Sunnyvale ISD Superintendent Doug Williams said. "Our teachers are front-line workers they have done a tremendous job since this time last year educating students."

The vaccines came and teachers celebrated a huge win after a year that just kept going wrong.   

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