April 14, 2021

COVID Diaries - School During COVID: A Teacher’s Perspective (guest post)

Last month, I asked if any "front line" workers would be interested in sharing their experience during the pandemic. I wanted to read about the experiences from doctors, nurses, teachers, physical/occupational therapists, mental care workers, stay-at-home moms, funeral directors, paramedics, people who had COVID-19 and were hospitalized, and other people whose lives have been turned upside-down during the pandemic.

After reading and sharing the results of the poll I'd posted, I was stunned at the reality of what some people are going through, and I wanted to hear all about it. I only heard from a couple of people, so I'm hoping that after reading this post, some of you may come out of lurking and be interested in sharing as well! I'd love to make this "COVID Diaries" a series on the blog.

I'm thrilled to share this post by a teacher who reads my blog. Here, Amy Burkitt shares her experience as a 7th and 9th grade teacher during the COVID-19 pandemic. If nothing else, this will give you a whole new level of respect for our amazing teachers!

“Pull your mask up!” “Pull your mask up!” “Pull your mask up!”—a phrase I never DREAMED I would be saying at school as a teacher, but here we are.

Let’s backtrack to the very beginning: on Friday, March 13, 2020, my fellow teachers and I were instructed to send home 2 weeks’ worth of take-home paper assignments with our students (because being a rural school district, internet access is sketchy in some areas so even though my classes are keyboarding on a computer keyboard, I had to send paper keyboards with typing assignments for practice).

Our Governor, Mike DeWine, announced a statewide school shutdown for Ohio at that time. Little did we know then with that first 2-week shutdown, that March 13 would be the LAST TIME we would see our 2019-2020 students in person for the school year☹. 

The school shutdown continued to be extended by weeks until eventually, it became summer break. During the shutdown, our district (on a volunteer basis) delivered meals to students and also had pickup locations. Having an elderly mother with various medical issues which made her at-risk, I did not participate in meal distribution, but am so thankful for my colleagues, administrators, kitchen staff and bus drivers who did. We are a southern Ohio rural school district, and we have kiddos who NEED those meals.

On the teaching side, we were not required to come in to school on a daily basis (Ohio ultimately went on a stay-at-home order); but we did have to provide weekly take-home packets for the remainder of the year, which were mailed home to students. Large tubs for each grade level were placed at our lobby doors for students to return their packets.

Was it the greatest system in the world? Nope, BUT these were unprecedented times… NONE OF US (not teachers, admin, support staff, students, parents, etc.) had ever experienced a global pandemic during our lifetimes, nor had we ever planned for accommodating “school” during one (again, I refer to the “never dreamed” part from my first paragraph).

As summer progressed and COVID-19 cases increased, we all wondered what would happen for the 2020-2021 school year? Would we continue the paper packets? Would we have in-person school? Would we go virtual? Dun, dun, DUNNNNNN…no one really knew for quite a while (at no one’s fault because there was no way to know), and the NOT KNOWING part was really hard on many of us teachers because we are usually a pretty structured/planner bunch. It was very much a “wait and see” situation in regards to COVID-19 cases and numbers throughout Ohio and the world.

As back-to-school time neared, our district released its start-up plan: the first two weeks would be “teachers-only” in order to train, prep, clean, etc. for having students; then we would begin with a hybrid schedule of…

Mondays: Teachers only for planning/virtual assignments/deep cleaning; 
Tuesdays + Wednesdays: in-person for students with last names A to L/virtual for others; 
Thursdays + Fridays: in-person for students with last names M to Z/virtual for others.
From there, our schedule would be dictated weekly based on our county’s color, which had four levels (yellow, orange, red, purple) on the COVID-19 state map released by Governor Dewine on Thursdays:

Yellow - full attendance all days
Orange - 50% attendance hybrid schedule
Red - 25% attendance hybrid schedule
Purple - fully virtual/stay-at-home.

I appreciated that we had a plan in place, but it was hard to look any further ahead than a week at a time because we were always waiting with bated breath to see what color the county was for planning the next week.

Jumping back to the two weeks of training at the start of the school year, this old-dog teacher on her 24th year had to learn many, many NEW TRICKS! First up: our junior high students were going to be provided individual Chromebooks for the 2020-2021 school year. At first, they were to use them at school only/leave them in charging carts at the end of the day, but then it was decided to allow them to take them home for use as well.

My classroom is a computer lab because I teach keyboarding so I moved all of the classroom computers across the hall to the storage room so students would have table space for their Chromebooks instead. This allowed for no sharing of keyboards, which is great germ-wise, but hard for this keyboard-lovin’ teacher’s heart because a real keyboard feels so different (and BETTER) from a Chromebook keyboard. 

I also opted to transfer all of my lessons to Google Classroom—this allows for online access at home AND eliminates paper/pencils (we were trying to eliminate shared supplies, areas being touched, etc.). 

Learning a new format for lessons was HARD at first, but with support from other colleagues, I got the hang of it and am a total Classroom/Drive enthusiast now. Being an electives teacher, I was also adding in some Social-Emotional Learning to my curricula for the year since we were concerned for our students’ emotional health during a scary time—things like stress management and weekly check-ins. 

The start of the 2020-2021 school year was DEFINITELY more stressful for me—it’s always somewhat stressful, but a global pandemic will up that to DEFCON 1. I am super grateful that our district acknowledged our needs and allowed for the 2 weeks of training and planning. Our beloved school nurse went over many, many new protocols; the main ones being added to our daily schedule were the following:
  • Take student temperatures at our classroom door before homeroom begins; 100.0 or higher = trip to COVID-19 care room for further evaluation
  • Breakfasts would be individual bags at carts in the hallway distributed by kitchen staff and eaten in homeroom
  • Wear masks at all times (all students and adults except when eating)
  • Social distance of at least 3+ feet in hallways and classrooms
  • Sanitize via wipes all student stations at the end of every class period each day
  • Stagger grade level dismissals so that alternating classes are in the hallways three minutes apart
  • Plexi-glass dividers at each work station/desk (I nicknamed them 'COVID cages' in my room, but they are NOT cages at all—I just liked the alliteration—see pic below)
  • Staggered lunches plus extra seating in the gymnasium
  • No more than four students in bathrooms at one time
  • Bottled water supplied all year (no water fountain use)
  • No homemade treats brought in (our teacher lunch bunch couldn’t eat together in the lounge either—not enough space for proper social distancing)

Bless our school nurse’s heart because she’s the sole nurse for the entire district. She has attendants/aides, but much of the return-to-school checks for students who had been quarantined or COVID-19-positive had to be completed by her alone.

My memory of the weeks is a little mottled, but we ended up on 'red' fairly quickly (red meant 25% attendance hybrid schedule). Our district realized that 25% was a struggle given bussing, lunches, etc. so we ended up staying at 50% hybrid when we were on orange OR red.

We completed some fully virtual weeks also as cases surged (like around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s). Beginning on March 15, 2021 (nearly a full year to the day), we returned to a full attendance, five-day per week schedule for students. We remain masked, COVID-caged, staggered in the hallway, and constantly sanitized (both tabletops and ourselves), BUT we are HERE!

Honestly, I am so impressed with our students’ acceptance of the changes this year; they have really adjusted and adapted to a lot of unknowns amidst their own fears and worries. Some did well on fully virtual weeks, but some did not. It’s hard to be at home, yet make yourself do school work--I totally get that—I have a workout room in our basement, just down a few steps, but I struggle to go down there. 

Plus, virtual is simply not the same as being IN a room WITH the teacher AND your classmates right there during a lesson to help and answer questions—I know Zoom is great (and I’m thankful for it), but still: NOT THE SAME. Also, the hybrid schedule separated some kiddos from their buddies—that’s hard, too. COVID-19 literally took away socializing as they were accustomed; that’s especially tough on a teen/pre-teen. AND I sincerely don’t know exactly what my students look like this year! I mostly see them masked; occasionally, when they take down their masks to take a drink, I’m thinking in my head “WHOA! Braces? I never guessed!”

Personally, my husband tested positive for COVID-19 on New Year’s Eve (thanks, 2020); it remained mild (thankfully), and I never developed symptoms or tested positive, but had to quarantine and miss some school. I know that is not the case for many in the world—even with my hubby’s mild case, I was scared for him/us… it’s just so much unknown (UGH!).

My heart goes out to folks who have lost loved ones, to our health care workers who have fought endlessly against this virus, and to those who are still suffering from symptoms or hospitalized. I chose to be vaccinated via our health department’s drive-thru option when offered to our school district. I know this is a personal choice; I received the Pfizer shots and had no symptoms (other than some tenderness at the injection site). I also know this is not the case for everyone; just sharing my experience. 

So now, we’re in our final quarter of school—our high school is getting to have a prom this weekend (with lots of COVID rules and no after-prom event, but at least they’re having the pictures/dance). Graduation plans haven’t been announced yet, but I’m sure that’s coming soon.

My masked marauders (aka students) are finishing up our keyboarding lessons and recently took home some beautiful poetry projects; I’m looking ahead to my 25th year of teaching; and I saved all my holiday/themed face masks from this year JUST IN CASE ‘Rona rules are still hanging around next year…hope not, but we shall see.

Thank you so much for sharing this, Amy! I am in awe and admiration of how adaptive you've had to be over this past year.

If any of you are interested in sharing your experience with how the pandemic has has a big impact on your life, please just send me an email at: Katie (at) runsforcookies (dot) com. 


  1. Thanks for sharing this! The teachers and other front-line workers carried (and always have carried) much of the load.

  2. I have been so impressed with my kids' teachers this year. The ability to adapt has never been so necessary and I really appreciate how they stepped up. It sounds like you have a great attitude, Amy!

  3. My sister is a high school teacher, and it’s interesting to hear about different teacher’s experiences in Covid. Her biggest challenge is trying to engage the students who are treating this situation as an excuse to be on vacation. It’s good to hear that you are able to slip some social emotional learning into the kids’ day. Thank you for sharing.

  4. I thank God each and every day since August that both of my children (17 and almost 20) have been able to attend school in person all but a handful of days (17 year old and dad both tested positive in Sept and we all had to quarantine plus the high school went virtual the week after Thanksgiving). Last spring was rough, but both kids' schools really went above and beyond to get them back to "normal" or as normal as could be for this school year (and with many similar protocols to what Amy described). Fingers crossed that my daughter's senior year can occur even a bit more "normal". Bless Amy and all those teachers like her who took on this challenge to love and serve our children!

  5. Wow Amy, thank you for sharing your story, and all the little details. These are hard times for everyone, and in very different ways for everyone too. However, teachers have just been going above and beyond. And thank you Katie for thinking of starting this series. I think it’s great for everyone to hear these first-hand accounts from people that we may not always interact with. Documenting these stories will be a very important part of this moment in history to look back on.

  6. Teachers had it so tough. Trying to teach virtually AND in person must be doubly challenging. I am so impressed with how well they have handled it all. And the students are amazing as well, accepting all the restrictions and changes/cancellations. It must be very hard to miss prom, graduation ceremonies, and so many rituals of school that had to be cancelled. Kudos to all and hopefully a return to normal is just around the corner!!


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