Teachers, students feel impact of the coronavirus pandemic

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TEACHING IN THE TIME OF COVID-19 — Annie Tan at an Aug. 20 protest at in Brooklyn, opposing the current school reopenings in New York. photo by Liat Olenick

Lisa Tsukamoto

The coronavirus pandemic has seriously impacted California and most of the United States. It has led authorities to close schools, teach remotely and ignore the calls of many conservatives who demand that schools and businesses reopen, as they describe COVID-19 as a hoax and refuse the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s orders to wear masks and practice physical distancing.

Three Asian American educators — in San Francisco, New York and Colorado — expressed their opinions about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on their schools, their students and their lives.

Lisa Tsukamoto, a kindergarten teacher at Rosa Parks Elementary School’s Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program in San Francisco, recalled the experience of teaching kids last spring at the start of the pandemic. “We had to make a huge switch from teaching in-person to moving to distance learning,” she told the Nichi Bei Weekly in an e-mail.

The expected remote curriculum this fall is going to be “very difficult for students, their families, and school staff,” she said. (The San Francisco Unified School District’s first day of school was Aug. 17). “Although our district is going to provide devices for all students K through 12, they need to make sure that each child receives a device and … they need to teach families how to connect to the learning platforms we’ll be using.”

Tsukamoto added, “A lot of what we do at the beginning of the school year is build community and teach our Kinders how to be in school … Younger children need in-person interactions, but we need to make sure it’s in a safe environment. Who knows when it will be safe for us to meet face-to-face? Also, some students have difficulty learning via Zoom because it can be overstimulating when we meet as a whole class. We will also meet with students in small groups and individually on Zoom to create stronger relationships.”

Some students will “feel OK” educationally and emotionally, but others will feel “disconnected or disengaged,” she stated. “We will try our best to make virtual learning engaging and with depth, but there’s no substitute for in-person teaching.”

Teachers, students and staff “will all be in PPE (personal protective equipment), we will be in small pods, and we will have shorter instructional hours” when the school transitions to in-person learning, Tsukamoto predicted. “There will also be temperature checks and a lot of handwashing and hand sanitizers. I need to stay healthy because my sister and I help care for our elderly parents.”

Asked if she has experienced any acts of racism from people blaming Asians for the spread of COVID-19, she said, “Luckily, no. I feel for those who have experienced acts of anti-Asian racism. It doesn’t help that our president instigates the anti-Asian sentiment.”

Tsukamoto, who lives in Portrero Hill in the southeastern part of San Francisco, said she is beginning her 23rd year of teaching. “I love teaching, especially at my school site where I work with wonderful colleagues and we have amazing students and families!”

NYC Was Scary Epicenter

TEACHING IN THE TIME OF COVID-19 — Annie Tan at an Aug. 20 protest at in Brooklyn, opposing the current school reopenings in New York. photo by Liat Olenick

Recalling last spring when New York City was the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, special education teacher Annie Tan stated via e-mail that it was “very scary to teach through the pandemic from home, wondering how my students and their families were doing, trying to remain calm while calming my students through this crisis and working with families’ different needs … We were also teaching students how to use (Google) … or, if they didn’t have devices yet, (we made) individual phone calls until they had Internet or technology access, finally.”

Teachers are constantly left out of education policy and of “making decisions about the things that we know best,” she complained. “We definitely weren’t interviewed about how we thought remote learning should go. But we’re still the ones rolling it out.”

It got more difficult when the deaths started hitting families of students and staff in her little classroom of 12 students, three paraprofessionals and herself, recalled Tan, who teaches fifth grade reading, math, science, social studies and writing at a public school in Brooklyn. “We had something like 14 deaths amongst (the families).”

Her class right now is a mix of Latinx, Chinese and South Asian students, and many of their parents don’t speak English,” the Chinatown resident wrote. “Luckily, I have some knowledge of Spanish and Chinese, but a lot of other teachers were really struggling to reach parents because they don’t speak those languages and had to find translation.”

Tan said she is not coping well with the proposed blend of in-person and remote curriculum this fall “because our leadership (politicians and district leadership) refuses to lead and keep us safe … it has reminded me that teachers are so undervalued and not appreciated. There were already broken sinks, no soap, and no cleaning supplies in my school, and in many of my friends’ public schools, and we don’t trust there will be enough supplies to keep us safe.”

“I also don’t trust my NYC Department of Education to keep us safe,” she declared. “They covered up cases in schools in early March and kept schools open even though they knew there were cases in that school building.

They also forced teachers to come in-person March 17-19 after schools were closed, to learn remote learning in-person. I have no doubt that led to more needless spread … A number of my colleagues have either already decided to leave teaching or are contemplating it for sure.”

The challenges will be heightened, Tan stated. “If we’re in-person, I anticipate my students will be really stressed knowing if they don’t keep their masks on, they might spread viruses or catch them, and that being socially distanced and under strict guidelines will actually cause further anxiety and frustration for students.”

Tan is “not comfortable” returning to school this fall, she said. “I want schools to reopen when it’s safe, and I miss my students dearly, but it’s not worth it only to probably close again when inevitably the virus spreads again. I would not be able to live with myself if I knew I spread the virus by taking the subway … shopping in Chinatown, or being in classrooms with little ventilation, and someone got seriously sick or died because of community spread.”

Tan expressed concerns about her health and safety. “If I am forced to go in … well, I don’t want to think about it. I will have to make a decision about my health and my life when that time comes.”

“I love my job teaching,” Tan exclaimed. “I do love the moments where I know my students have learned, have become critical and thoughtful, kind human beings to one another, and I want to get back to that in-person learning … only when it’s safe.

When asked if she experienced any acts of racism from people blaming all Asians for the spread of COVID-19, she replied, “Absolutely!”

University of Colorado

Daryl Maeda ­

Remote learning is challenging for students in many ways, Daryl Joji Maeda, associate professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, related in an e-mail. “Some students report having trouble keeping their concentration up in remote sessions because of distractions like other people being present in the room and … others report that it is hard to stay motivated because the normal cadence of class and homework is being disrupted. In addition, not all students have the technology needed to thrive … including a computer with a good microphone and camera, as well as fast Internet.”

It can be challenging for teachers as well, Maeda stated. “Managing a discussion on Zoom is difficult, as is organizing students into small groups to do in-class exercises. It’s harder to give a lecture and pay attention to who is raising their hand on Zoom than it is in-person.”

Many students suffered from the abrupt transition to remote learning, though others thrived, explained the educator who earned his master’s degree from San Francisco State University. “Students felt the loss of close contact with their teachers and fellow students, which made it even more important for the campus to offer techniques for maintaining a sense of social connection in the face of physical distancing.”

“After an adjustment period, I came to enjoy working remotely,” conceded Maeda, adding that the experience “has given me the ability to create a structure for myself outside of the office, which has enabled me to be productive. But it is more challenging to maintain the feeling of connection with coworkers than it would be if we were meeting in-person.”

Maeda usually teaches Asian American studies and comparative ethnic studies. But at the moment, he does not teach regular classes because of his position as associate dean for student success in the College of Arts and Sciences.

A professor at CU Boulder for 15 years, Maeda noted, “Working with college students is invigorating and exciting, because they’re at a developmental stage in which they are just discovering the world, beginning to understand themselves and their passions, and thinking about who they want to be and the positive changes they want to make.”

The student population at CU Boulder is 66 percent white, 12 percent Latinx, 8 percent Asian American, 2.5 percent Black or African American, 2 percent Native American or Pacific Islander, and 8 percent international, the professor reported.

Native Californian Maeda, added, “My mother still lives in my home town of Loma Linda in SoCal and I am always happy to return home to the Golden State. I miss the weather, the people, and the food, not necessarily in that order.”

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