Teachers return to EHS


English teacher Sarah Simmons is among the many teachers excited to back in their classrooms once again.

Last Monday, March 22, EHS reopened the building for teachers to get them acclimated to how school will be with Covid around. We interviewed a few teachers to get their opinions about being in the building and this is what they had to say.

Most teachers acknowledged that it was good to get back into the routine of going to school, and also that it was good to have some time to adjust and prepare for the return of students in-person.

“I think it was a good thing, because we have the opportunity to familiarize ourselves with the new equipment before our students arrive,” math teacher Beatris Dominguez said. “We can also return to a more ‘normal’ work schedule, which for me was a good thing to help separate work from home a bit more. I also like seeing my colleagues every once in a while in the hallway, as it brings a stronger sense that we are all in this together.”

“I think there will be a lot of kinks that need to be worked out, so I think it is wise to have teachers return to the building before students to ensure everyone is prepared when students return,” math teacher Amy Brogna said. 

“I think it was the inevitable reality so in many ways I am glad it started,” English teacher Sarah Simmons said. “It is a bit surreal being in a school building without students but I do hope that we will be welcoming students back soon. I do best with routines and coming back into the building has made it so I reestablished my work day routine which is helpful. Being able to separate work from home is nice.” 

“I think it’s great that teachers have finally returned to the classrooms,” English teacher Thomas McDonough said. “We’re excited to get back to face-to-face interactions with both our students and our colleagues. The pandemic really forced many of us to rethink the way we do things, but it also made us appreciate our old routines.” 

“I like getting back into the routine and being one step closer to having students return,” computer science and EL teacher Sarah Bitterman said. “It’s the closest to normal life has been since the start of the pandemic.”

“I like the focus that coming to the building provides for me,” Brogna said. “Many of my students faced issues with focus and motivation while working from home, and that was no different for me. I found it hard to stay focused on work with so many distractions around. I think it’s easier to get into that school mindset while working from the building.” 

It is a strange feeling to blend remote teaching with physical presence in the building, as seen here in one of math teacher Amy Brogna’s Zoom classes, but most teachers feel like this is at least a step in the right direction.

“I feel like it’s a lot easier for me to stay focused on my work,” Mazzarella said. “I will miss being able to spend as much time with my kids, but I know it’s better to get back to normal.”

Teachers also appreciated a chance to connect and collaborate with their colleagues again in-person after a long and isolating year, albeit in a safe and socially distanced manner. 

“I’m just energized by seeing my colleagues every day, even with masks on,” English teacher Dana Oppedisano said. “We are catching up, discussing students, sharing ideas. We haven’t done any of that for a year, and there’s something to be said for the routine of being inside the building each day. The best thing about being a teacher – working with our students – might not be there just yet, but collaborating with teachers you like and respect is definitely the next best thing. That is so much better than having neither.”

 “I’m happy to be able to see my peers again even from a distance. I think teaching remotely at home has been pretty isolating,” Brogna said. 

“One thing that I like about teachers returning is getting to see and talk to other teachers,” math teacher Catherine Ingersoll said. “There was little to no time to collaborate with other teachers. It is nice having that community again. 

“While it has been a huge adjustment, I do enjoy seeing everyone again and I am really excited to see my students again,” math and engineering teacher Anna Seiders said. “I’m a pretty social person so being alone for over a year has been really hard. I love seeing my friends and socializing with all my colleagues,” Seiders said. “There is a lot we can do remotely, but there is something about actually being in the same space as other people that is just good for your soul.”

Most teachers seem to feel safe with being back in the building again, and are encouraged by finally having access to the vaccine and by all the safety measures that have been put in place by the school. 

“I feel safe with teachers returning to the building at the same time,” Ingersoll said. “Almost all teachers have had the vaccine, either one shot out of 2 or the single Johnson and Johnson shot. The school has also put in a lot of safety precautions for us, such as air purifiers in every room, hand sanitizer everywhere, and making masks mandatory at all times”

“The numbers of new infections and hospitalizations are very encouraging,” English teacher Joseph Mazzarella said.

“I’m really excited that all the science seems to be headed in the right direction,” Seiders said, “and I am hopeful that if all mitigation strategies are held, we will be able to have almost a ‘normal’ school day again. I’m excited about the hustle and bustle of students in the hallways again, but I also know that we need to take it slow and follow the science.”

Although appreciative of the chance to socialize and collaborate with their peers, what most teachers are really looking forward to is the chance to finally see their students in-person. 

“It feels somewhat silly to be physically in school but doing the same things that we were doing remotely,” English teacher Michael Fineran said. “But I understand why all teachers are back in the building and I don’t mind. It brings a sense of normalcy and will make returning next year easier, which is why I would like to see students come in, even if only for a short time.”

“I am very excited for in-person learning,” Bitterman said. “It’s kind of like anxiously waiting to meet your students on the first day of school in September, except it’s spring, which is bizarre, but exciting nonetheless.”

 “I’m really looking forward to getting students back to school since that is what I love about my job,” Mazzarella said. 

While some teachers have found it easier to focus now that they are working from their classrooms again, others confessed that so far there have also been some things about returning to the building that have made it tougher to stay focused. 

“Being in the building creates more interruptions to the day whether it is an announcement or internet issue or just a colleague stopping by to say hello,” Simmons said. “At home my interruptions were limited. I do expect that to decrease though as the novelty of being back in the building wears off.”

“I was a lot more productive when there weren’t as many people around because I could focus and I was rarely interrupted,” Seiders said. “Now, there’s just so much going on I feel like I never stop moving. “

Teachers also weighed in about some of the other challenges that came along with this adjustment.

“Honestly, it’s been a little difficult for my family to take care of picking up the kids from school and juggling other activities now that we’re back in school, but I’m happy to be back,” Mazzarella said. 

“Teaching on Zoom alone in the classroom has been challenging,” Bitterman said. “Teaching is normally a very social profession where you are constantly surrounded by students, other teachers and staff.”

“One thing that I find challenging about teachers returning is teachers having to share rooms with floating teachers,” Ingersoll said. “The poor floating teachers really need a safe space to teach from. There are not a lot of options or places for displaced teachers to go.”

“One thing I find challenging is the silence in our classrooms that were once full of life with our students,” Dominguez said. “That has taken some adjusting to. So I encourage students to speak up more so we can hear your voices and help classes become more alive, especially now.”

Math teacher Beatris Dominguez’ classroom just doesn’t feel the same with the buzz and energy and students.

“We are adjusting to what everyone is calling our ‘new normal,’ so even something as simple as poking into another classroom to speak to someone has to be done carefully,” Oppedisano said. “We have to wear our masks, be more aware of cleaning our classrooms and utilizing the air purifiers and other sanitizing safeguards. It’s not challenging so much as it is just new. There’s that, and just the mental hurdle of not having students. We’re back in the building, surrounded by teachers, but when I try to work with a student it still involves Zoom or an online learning tool. Just like Zooming at the start of the year, it’s something that takes some getting used to, but again, it’s a step toward normal and I’m very excited about that.”

“The only real challenging thing for me is that we’re still teaching over Zoom,” Mazzarella said. “Because the school decided not to make it mandatory for students to have their cameras on, it’s difficult to make sure that students are paying attention and very difficult to get to know my students, which is a big part of my classroom experience.

“Even though there is minimal traffic, the commute is the challenging part of returning to school for me,” Brogna said. “I was able to use the hour of daily driving time to get more work completed, so I feel like I’m losing an hour of work time each day by driving to the building.”

Despite these challenges and adjustments though, overall the return of teachers to the building has been smooth and is a sign of hope for better, more normal times to come.

“I’m actually very excited about returning to the building,” Oppedisano said. “It’s not quite ‘back to school,’ and everytime I log into Zoom or walk by an empty classroom I am reminded of that, but it’s a step toward normal. It’s been a really difficult year – between staying home, transforming the way we teach and get to know our students – and simply being here from 7:30-3 every day, seeing our colleagues and remotely speaking with students, it’s starting to feel like back to work. There’s a long way to go, but it’s progress.”