Welcome back to a brand-new semester of Interview-An-Educator! Interns Emily Flores and April Bannister sat down (over Zoom, of course) with an Iowa-based Secondary Spanish teacher. The teacher asked to remain anonymous. This interview was particularly exciting because they discussed a new development since the last interview: vaccines! In addition to the vaccine, they talked about what a typical day looks like at the teacher’s school, her reaction to her school’s pandemic response, and the effects of the pandemic on her grading philosophy and personal life. To check out the interview, listen to the audio below or read the full transcript.

Interview Audio

Interview Transcript

April: OK, so hello, this is April and Emily with the IWYP Interview-An-Educator Project. Today, or tonight, that is, we are speaking with an educator in Iowa who works in secondary education. So, thank you so much for being here. Just to begin. We have a few brief questions before getting into it. Could you tell us what your current role is in your school specifically? 

Educator: I’m a Spanish teacher. I teach Spanish 1 and 2, so I deal mostly–well, I have everything from freshman to senior. But for the most part, I teach freshmen and sophomores. So, 14, 15, 16-year-olds. 

April: And do you live in the district where you work?

Educator: Yes-ish. Well, no, I guess not. I’m in the sister city. So, I’m 15 minutes from my home, but it is a different school district. My kids go to a different school. 

April: So, to whichever one feels more relevant to you, whether it’s the district where you live, where your kids go to school or where you work, how is your district or your school responding to the pandemic in general?

Educator: Well, for that, I can really only speak to what my school that I teach at is doing. My kids have done online school up until now. So, Galen just–my son recently has gone into the building for classes. I know they’re still wearing masks. At any rate, the school that I teach at–we recently integrated the two halves of the student population that were coming in for in-person learning. We had what we called an A day and a B day. So, the entire group of in-person students were separated into these two smaller groups. So, they were recently joined. February 1st, I think it was. So, it’s more challenging because, you know, I went from having eight kids in my classroom to having twenty, and I can’t social distance anymore. The kids are required–we are all required to wear masks, cloth masks specifically. But you know. Sometimes it doesn’t fit well. Sometimes it slips. And the kid just forgets or doesn’t want to have to be wearing a mask or, you know, they’ll have a lollipop. And so, they say, oh, I’m eating, you know, I can’t have my mask on. But I think for the most part, the kids try. 

The administration … there are definitely feelings of resentment that the administration is not being open enough with COVID or has previously not been open enough with COVID numbers and with decisions being made and what’s going on. There was an email that went out to the parents about I don’t remember even what, the upcoming change or something, that the educators, the teachers had not been apprised of. So, we read the possibility of integration–it was about integrating the two cohorts–we read that possibility with the parents rather than knowing this stuff. So, it’s actually one of my students who told me, oh, I hear that they’re thinking about putting these classes together. And it’s like, oh, really? Because I hadn’t heard a thing. So, there was some resentment with that.

My administrators directly in my building have provided cleaning materials, surface spray and antibacterial stuff and wipes, and I have a collection of–they gave us extra or gave me, I requested it, as some of us requested, extra … what do you call it? Masks. You know, for those students who–I actually had a student who came into my class with no mask on and I think she sat there in front of me for a good five, ten minutes before I realized that she wasn’t wearing one. Anyway, so I gave her a mask. And they also provided–they offered, and I asked for some desk shields for those students that were feeling very uncomfortable with it, because there are those students that just feel like, OK, this is too much. Now this is making me uncomfortable. People are too close to me. So, they did provide desk shields. And they’re horrible. So, I don’t actually use them. I had thought about using them on those kids that were just not following the mandate or whatever. And it just–I haven’t used them, so it feels like a bit of a waste, which is unfortunate because we really haven’t got money to waste in public education.

Did that answer your question? I was quite long winded. Sorry. 

April: Yeah, no, it definitely did. Can you just talk a little bit about why the dividers are bad?

Educator: Why, what? 

April: What makes the dividers horrible, as you said?

Educator: Oh, the design of it. They are sort of a flimsy plastic vinyl, you know, thick vinyl kind of see-through three-piece. You unfold it in front of you. And so it’s one piece. And these two sides fold out so that you place the thing in front of you. It’s not sturdy. It stays kind of on the desk. They have to use chrome books on their desk. So it’s a very small space to work within. I mean, those desks are small to begin with. And then you’ve got your Chromebook on it and you’ve got your arms resting next to the Chromebook. And it isn’t practical. 

(speaking to her son)

Sorry, ladies, go ahead. 

Emily: Did you want me to go forward to the next one? OK. So how has–no, that’s not it. What does your typical school day look like? I know you touched a little bit on it, but, you know, just day to day, what does it look like with the students and the teachers and everything?

Educator: So, we start classes at 7:45. We need to be, the teachers, I believe are–the time we have to be there is 7:30. I’m always there around 7:00. And the classes are forty-three minutes, I think, each. So, I teach six classes a day. I have one class that is what we call MTSS. It’s sort of like a study hall or an opportunity to educate the kids about different issues or something that that teaches the school overall about social concerns or … yeah, things like that. Or it’s a study hall depending on the day. And then I have my prep period. So that comes out to eight periods a day in which I teach Spanish six of those periods. The kids have four minutes in between classes. I’m sure they let their masks down between classrooms and the hallways.

Yeah, that’s pretty much my day. We’re done at 2:45, so it makes for a–I enjoy having that much of the afternoon, you know, available after the school day is done. 

Emily: Yeah, it’s a nice early time to let out. I’ve heard of some being later so that’s a good time. 

April: Besides like masks and everything–again, I know you touched on this a little bit with the A and B day schedule, but how has this kind of typical day changed with the pandemic?

Educator: It is very different with fewer children. We still have a lot of kids that are doing virtual, so I do not have as many students in the classroom. There are other classes that do. In foreign language, if you don’t get a passing grade the first semester, you don’t go on to second semester. So, we’re in second semester now. And I’ve lost students who failed, so my classes are always smaller second semester. Whereas I’ve heard of other classes, students have said they have classes with 31, 32 students in the classroom, which is an awful lot. These are not huge, you know, auditorium seating classrooms by any stretch. Shoot. And now I have lost the thread of your question. 

April: No, no problem. It was just about how your day has changed. 

Educator: Oh, so smaller classes have definitely changed the day just in that I have more one-on-one interaction with the students. That, I have often said, is the silver lining of COVID. I get more one-on-one time with my students because there are fewer students in the classroom, and I have really enjoyed that. That has been really nice. And in that way, I’m feeling a little spoiled this year. Just with that aspect. Everything else is a complete disaster, but it has been nice seeing, interacting more with the kids and getting to know them.

(speaking to her son)


April: I was just going to ask really briefly, you mentioned you always have students who don’t come back the second semester to your class because of certain grades. We’ve heard from a few other teachers in Iowa, just about the high percentage of students who are failing classes, [a percentage] much higher than usual because of the pandemic. Has that been something you’ve experienced as well? 

Educator: I have … I mean, I could speak not so much to the F’s because I have not been — my grading right now is based exclusively on whether they’re doing the work or not. So, it’s not based on tests or quizzes at the moment. We are giving our first test this coming week. So, there are, despite that, just being work-based, there are F’s. I definitely have a lot of–no, not a lot. I have … yeah, several students who are failing because they–with the A/B day, on those off days, they really struggled to work. A lot of these kids, you know, are just learning self-motivation. It’s a tool that is not always easily learned and sometimes never learned. So, I’ve had kids struggle with that. And, yeah, I think there’s just a lot of repercussions from this whole thing that we–psychological, emotional, you know, these kids are really suffering a lot with these drastic changes in their social structure. You know, schools and classmates that they don’t see anymore because those kids are online, and their parents don’t want them going out or whatever. I don’t know if I answered your question. 

April: No, you totally did. Thank you. 

Emily: And we appreciate all kind of tangents, like if it brings up something else, talk about it. Whatever you want to tell. 

Educator: Then I’ve got you covered because I’m all about tangents or just veering off in a totally different direction.

Emily: That’s great. That makes me think of a question. I don’t have it on my list. But how has your grading philosophy changed? Like, what’s your typical philosophy about being lenient or like late work, the toughness of how you grade versus how it is now?

Educator: I think I’m definitely more lenient, particularly with my Spanish 2’s who lost from spring break on last year. You know, they lost a lot of education time. And so we are definitely babying them and redoing stuff because they were out of school between that spring break and the summer. They were out of school for five full months, you know, and to step away from foreign language for that period of time, we weren’t obviously able to bring them in as typical Spanish 2 students. They were still very much dealing with not knowing Spanish 1 material. So, in some respects, it’s almost as if my 1’s and 2’s are on the same level at this at this point, because the 2’s that were 1’s last year lost from the spring on. Then they come back and they’re only here every other day. In the semester of instruction time, I probably had each group–the A group and the B group–for a solid month worth of classes. Do you know what I mean? We’re having A day and then B day and then A day and then four-day weekend because we have a holiday and then B day and then A day and then B day and then a professional development day for the teachers. Those are once a month. Right. So, these kids have three-day, four-day weekends, it feels like all the time. And I really had limited instruction time with them. So, between last spring and then this fall, it’s been a disaster and I’m teaching my 1’s and 2’s on a very similar level. So that has been a repercussion of COVID.

You know, it’s hard to say about the grading being different because of COVID, because we have, we have been doing a different form of teaching. We started, just coincidentally, we started doing C.I., which is a comprehensible input in our school. And so, C.I. is a lot more immersion-based, a lot more input-based. And there’s less multiple-choice testing type stuff. You know, they were not doing the same sort of workbook exercises and it’s a lot more conversation. So, my testing or my grading has changed a little bit with that anyway. So, I don’t know if I have a really good answer for you there. Yeah.

Emily: No, I’ve seen that. I’m in the teacher education program here at Iowa and we’ve been talking a lot about assessments lately and like how there’s a shift from multiple choice to more like application type stuff for short answer and less multiple choice. So, I can see how that would change. This is a different question, but maybe more lighthearted–what’s your favorite part of your job? And has that been affected by the pandemic or even like, has there been a weirdly fun part about the pandemic? I know you mentioned that silver lining. 

Educator: Well, that’s exactly, yes, what I was gonna say. I mean, my favorite part of the job is the relationship with the kids. That is–I mean, I happen to be passionate about Spanish. I’m passionate about travel.

(speaking to her son)

Now I’ve lost my train of thought. Silver lining. Oh, that the … I’m trying to come back to what your question exactly was, and because I know what I wanted to say, but, oh, my favorite part of teaching is the relationship. Yeah. Yeah. And given the smaller class size, I definitely have been able to focus on that. So, as I said, that is the one and only positive thing I can say has come from COVID. The fact that we have changed to C.I. during this year has also very much helped our transition as teachers in this department. But that’s just a random–that’s a fluke that it happened to happen the same year as the COVID epidemic. And that we’ve had more time for lesson planning, for getting used to this material. That’s new material that we’re presenting and all of this. But no, absolutely. My favorite part of teaching is getting to know these kids and joking, you know, joking around with the kids. I met one of the fellow teachers. This is only my second year at this building in this district. And I met one of my fellow teachers and I introduced myself. He says, “Oh yeah, I know who you are. I’ve heard about you.” And I said, “Oh yeah?” He said, “Yeah, the kids have great things to say.” He said, “You know, they come to my class and they talk about teachers and whatever.” He said, “Yeah, I hear you talk really fast. But the kids say that’s good because it makes them pay attention.” So, I was so flattered. It made my week that students would not only talk about me but say good things.

Emily: They’re the best sometimes, aren’t they? 

Educator: Yeah.

Emily: And, you know, they’re honest with what they say. 

Educator: Yes, yeah. What level are you planning on teaching? 

Emily: High school, so secondary, and then I’ll be teaching English. 

Educator: OK. 

Emily: Yeah. I’m not sure exactly what type yet. I know there’s like English language learner, English versus like English language arts, and all of that. But yeah, I’m excited. I’m glad I get to talk to you since you’re in secondary ’cause I like to talk to as many teachers as I can to learn as much as I can about it.

Educator: Yeah, it is gratifying work. Because of your influence on children, on young people who are not quite children, not quite adults. You know, they’re developing. They relate their opinions and they’re coming away from just believing what mom and dad believe and needing to learn these really important things about socializing and behaving in the world and this kind of thing. But it’s a lot of work. I’m not going to sugarcoat that for you. The lesson planning and classroom management. 

Emily: I feel ready to come back from my first job crying. 

Educator: Oh, yeah. I never heard of a first-year teacher who has not cried because you do, you feel overwhelmed. And also, I remember I probably spent a good 60, 70 hours a week. I was there before class started my first year. I was there after school. I went in on the weekends sometimes, you know. Yeah. It’s a lot of work. And I would highly recommend getting as many tools in your tool belt as you can before you go in.

Emily: Good advice.

Educator: Yeah. Yeah. So definitely pay attention in classes, you know, techniques or tips or heck, photocopies that you’re … I don’t know. You’re the student teacher, what do you call the person who is the–mentor teacher?

Emily: Right. Yeah. Or I’ve heard co-op, like your cooperating teacher.

Educator: There you go. OK. So, I’m doing that next semester for the first time, actually, because this is my fourth year teaching.

Emily: Oh, wow. From the way you’re talking, it sounds like you’re on year 20 or something.

Educator: Yeah. Yeah. Well, no. So, it’s only my fourth year teaching. I am not that far away from the first-year teacher experience, so I can say it to you quite confidently. I remember because it wasn’t that long ago. Yeah. No, I’m glad I–I was an interpreter prior to this. Spanish interpreter in a hospital setting. So, I attended births and I dealt with–what’s the English word–birth control and that kind of thing. So, yeah, this is a career change for me. 

Emily: What made you get into that?

Educator: Well, some of my reasons were practical. My husband is a professor. And my kids are still in school. My daughter is just starting college this coming semester. And my son is in high school still. And I knew that if I changed careers and went to get a typical 9-5 job, I was going to hate my husband during the summers when I would have to wake up and go into work. And, you know, he’d be sitting there on the front porch. Reading or playing on his phone or whatever. So, I wanted something with summers off with an academic schedule. Yeah. I am passionate about my language and my culture. My family is from Argentina. And I enjoy teenagers. I enjoy children. I knew I didn’t want to work with really young children. I just don’t have that kind of energy. 

Emily: They’re a whole different breed of person. 

Educator: Oh, it is. And they’re darling. My daughter was thinking she wants to be a teacher and she volunteered in a first grade classroom and she said, they come up to me and they hug my leg and they’re so excited to see me. And, you know, yeah, it’s great. Little ones like that. But it’s like herding cats when you need them to do something. Yes. Because I substitute taught before this and I substituted in that kind of classroom and whoa, yeah, a lot of energy. And high school students have their own challenges with classroom management. I struggled with that initially. That’s another nice part about, you know–with fewer kids in the classroom, there are fewer issues. So, yeah, another positive aspect. Yes.

Emily: April, did you have a question? Sorry. Kind of talked a bit.

April: No, you’re good. I was just gonna comment on something you said a few minutes ago. Obviously, you’re not terribly new to this anymore, but even so, this is your fourth year teaching. Like, what a time to be doing it in, I’m sure. I mean, obviously, no one expected this to happen. But sometimes when I hear things like that, I’m just reminded of how completely unprecedented this situation was. I think about all the people who have switched careers recently and found themselves in very different situations. Which I guess leads into the next question we had, which is how do you think your school has done with their whole response to the pandemic? Do you think–oh, sorry, excuse the noise. Do you think that your school was done well in terms of supporting teachers? Is there something you wish had been done differently? Just your thoughts on that.

Educator: I’m going to just quickly jump to what you said about, you know, being a newer teacher in this pandemic. I know of a young man who started teaching actually at the beginning of the spring semester. So right when COVID started and we went from online his first year, his first experience teaching, we went from in-person overnight to online to his having to lesson plan with virtual teaching. And I mean, I struggled with it. We all struggled with it. Suddenly you’re not using the Promethean board. You’re not using photocopies. You’re not able to do partner work. All of that was–it was gone by the wayside. And so, yeah, we all struggled with it, but I definitely felt for him and for other first-year teachers who, you know–all of your training, yes, you have some experience with computer stuff. Obviously, that’s the technology age, but you’re not necessarily trained to teach online classes. And that’s what this was, that spring semester.

But as far as what my school has done, as I mentioned before, the districts with the lack of transparency definitely have been an issue. We were fortunate because the online thing that they put us through last semester, it was not an everyday class. It was ridiculous, actually. It was once a week for some of us. I can’t teach a week’s worth of Spanish in one forty-five-minute online session. So that’s why I’m saying the kids missed out so much. But I think I think my school has been trying to be understanding and supportive and there for complaints or concerns. I haven’t really had many complaints. I kind of do what I need to do. And one of the difficult things about being a teacher is you’re kind of isolated in your classroom. And the first year I was at the school–I had been at two schools prior and there were like common lunchrooms, which is somewhere you can go and interact with other adults and vent a little bit or just joke around and not think about teaching or meet up with other people from your department. And this school doesn’t have that. So, I definitely missed it my first year when I didn’t know people yet. Since then, I have become very good friends with my colleagues in the foreign language department. We actually get together and walk every lunch period. So, it’s just the four of us just doing laps around the gym or whatever. But it’s been a nice bonding kind of thing. Yeah. 

And in the two previous schools I taught–my first year was one school, my second year was a second and different school, and now third and fourth. I’m in the one that I hope I’m going to stay in until I retire. But again, I went on a tangent. 

April: No, no, you’re good. 

Educator: Just go ahead and stop me, really, if you need to. 

April: No, we really love hearing all of what you have to say. So, I guess beyond the school level, then, if you’re comfortable sharing or have thoughts on it, what are your thoughts on the wider response to the pandemic? Whether that’s in terms of our state legislation here, national responses, anything you might have feelings about you want to share?

Educator: Wow. Well, you know, that so depends on what your views are in general, political stance, or whatever. I am very liberal. I am very disappointed by what Trump did. I think it can be considered no less than killing people with his irresponsibility and completely ignoring the pandemic the way that he did. I think thousands, maybe tens of thousands more U.S. citizens died than they needed to or American residents, U.S. residents. And Iowa has been embarrassing. You know, COVID Kim … there has just been very irresponsible [stuff] and some of the stuff that’s gone on is just mind boggling. And you think, did these people graduate high school? Did they take science in high school? Did they … It’s baffling. It’s been very, very frustrating because, you know, one feels so powerless. You do what you can to vote or to participate as a citizen, through demonstrations or through voting or through giving money to the Republican or the Democratic Party or whatever. But I am constrained by the fact that I’m not a politician. I don’t represent the entire population of the United States. And I don’t make decisions that I think are best. You know, I have to rely on other people to make decisions based on what I as a constituent say. But my fellow constituents don’t necessarily agree with me. So, you know, the politicians that don’t–what’s going on in Iowa right now definitely does not represent my beliefs. But, yeah, it is what it is. And I do what I can do. But it’s not an awful lot.

April: Right. And I mean, of course there’s only so much you can do. Emily and I were talking before this, too, about how it’s very much a group project gone wrong. You know, we do what we can on the individual level. But when it comes to controlling other people, we are very much incapable of that. And that can be detrimental to everyone.

Educator: It’s so frustrating that the masks became politicized. If that hadn’t happened, if it had just been understood to be a public health issue, like wearing your seat belt and turning off your phone and computer when you get on the plane and all these other things that you could call invasions of privacy if you wanted to. But we don’t. We accept it. We take off our shoes in the airport and let them scan us and all of this. And how does a mask become a political statement? I don’t … that went really wrong. That went really, really wrong. 

Emily: The bonkers part is I don’t know if you remember, but at the very start of the pandemic, we were told that you weren’t supposed to wear them. I think that was pretty crazy. I mean, that’s kind of the information I was receiving, that masks were for the medical personnel and that you need to save them for medical people and that you shouldn’t wear them.

Educator: Right. 

Emily: And then we got new information. 

Educator: We got a change. Well, that feels like a real lie. They were lying, so that never feels good when you’re not administrators. But yeah, they’re administrators and the people in charge are just outright lying because they knew. Like I said, it’s science. You know, some of these things make sense. It makes sense for a doctor to wear a mask. Then why would it not make sense for me to wear one? Something is so contagious and is out there and I’m in danger of getting it. But I do understand, with when it first started, how people would run out and buy toilet paper and bottled water. Like, suddenly we spent weeks not being able to find toilet paper on the shelves. So, I can understand how they might have felt like, OK, we need to save this for the people on the front lines. But they do a good job of then turning around and explaining it, making it clear as to, OK, this is why we said this, and this is why you need to go this way. Now, that could have been done better. Yeah. 

Emily: Well, now there’s masks everywhere. Oh, sorry. You can go ahead, April.

April: This is a digression anyway. I was just going to say, something I think is very representative of the general COVID experience in the United States is I was studying abroad last spring when all this started happening.

Educator: And you had to come home. 

April: Yeah. Yes. Very hard. Tough to give up this program I worked for, but again, I digress. But we were given– they had this massive box in Ireland of N95s. They were just handing them out like candy to everyone, being like, here, take this for your travel home. You know, we had so many. They gave everyone a huge handful. And then I came back here and gave them to my neighbor who works in the emergency room. Emily, like you were saying, we were told, you’re selfish if you hold onto them. You need to give them to the people who need them. And of course, he needed the masks more than I did. But exactly like you were saying, we all needed masks. It’s hard to imagine we were told anything different. 

Educator: Yeah, yeah. I’m so sorry, April, to hear that you had to give up that experience and I hope you were able to get some time and some enjoyment out of it before you were forced to come home.

April: Oh, yeah. 

Educator: I wish everybody traveled. I wish all of our young people had that opportunity and were required to travel. I tell my students all the time, even if it’s just going to Texas, get out of Iowa and see what other people do, experience what other people think. You know, you may not agree, but yeah. I hope you get to do something else to make up for that, what you lost. 

April: I hope so, too. I hope we can all make up, at some point, the things we’ve lost during this time.

Educator: Yeah, we were supposed to go to Japan last summer. And yeah, that got put by the wayside. 

Emily: I have family that lives in Peru. My dad is Peruvian. And we were going to visit, but that fell through, too. So, we actually recently had a giant Zoom call with everyone. So that was nice. I mean, it’s better than nothing, right? But still sad. 

Educator: Not quite the same. 

Emily: Yeah. And then I thought we could bring up another development in all that’s happened. We actually didn’t have this question on our original list of questions. But basically, I wrote down “vaccine?” Like, what do you think? Have you gotten it? Are you planning on getting it? And will that change the way you feel teaching in person? What are your thoughts? 

Educator: I am getting it. I was very reluctant. Well, I didn’t want to be the first one and I didn’t want to be the hundredth. I didn’t want to be the ten thousandth. I wanted to see how this was going to go down. And, you know, I thought March might be a good time or something. My appointment is actually tomorrow morning. 

(speaking to her daughter)

Wow. It’s a busy night. 

Emily: Again, thanks for giving us your time. I can tell you’ve got a lot going on so far. 

Educator: Sorry, sorry. My daughter, we’re just deciding where she’s going to go to college. We’re thinking Argentina, actually. She may go to Buenos Aires University for the first year or two because it costs $5,000 there as opposed to $42,000 out-of-state room and board. 

Emily: My dad went to medical school for free in Peru. Can you imagine?

Educator: Nice. Who went to medical school free? 

Emily: My dad.

Educator: Oh, your dad? Yeah. Yeah. No. The $5,000 that I mentioned for Argentina, that’s at the private school. So, the public school is free and that’s where she’s looking at going. Buenos Aires University is is a public school, so we’ll pay for her room and board and that’s it. And it’ll be awesome, and it’ll be an amazing experience. But yeah, it’s overpriced here. But I’m sorry. Before she called, what were we saying? 

Emily: Oh yeah. Vaccines. What are your thoughts? You’re saying you’re a bit reluctant. 

Educator: So, like I said, I didn’t want to be the first one. I’m leery of it because I feel like it was rushed through so quickly. Yeah. But I am older, not in awesome health and concerned enough about getting [COVID] that when I was offered the vaccine, I decided that I would take it. It kind of was presented to us as a “take it now or you get it when the general population gets it.” I don’t know when the general population is going to get it. I would like to do some things this summer. I’d like to travel this summer. We typically go home for about a month. And by home, I mean the East Coast. And I have a friend in D.C. We have family in Connecticut. We have family in Vermont. We have family in New Jersey. In New York. Upstate New York. And so, we kind of do the circuit and visit all these people. And last year, last summer, I couldn’t visit my parents in New York or my husband’s parents. Couldn’t see my sister-in-law and her family. I did see my best friend in D.C. because she’s just not as afraid of COVID as the majority of the population. I didn’t see my Connecticut family and I did see my New Jersey family. So, it was a lot less. We went to New York City. I can’t quite remember everything that we did. Oh, we went to the beach, which we shouldn’t have, but we did as a family. We went to the beach. But at any rate, yes. We took that risk. 

Vaccination … I was unclear as to why we brought the two groups of students back together February 1st when they kept talking about how we’re gonna be vaccinated soon, vaccinated soon. And I thought, well, why not wait until after the teachers have at least gotten the first shot of vaccination? What I didn’t realize was what a mess this whole vaccination process is in Iowa and how long it would take. So what are we, the 20th [of February]? And I am the first of my colleagues who has been approached about getting vaccinated. I’m the oldest in my department, and that’s probably why. But yeah, for some reason, I was offered the vaccine and I’m getting it tomorrow. I’m not excited. I’m not confident in the vaccine. But I do understand that for the vaccine to be effective for our population, a large majority of us needs to have it. So, you know, we’re gonna have–the children aren’t going to be vaccinated yet because that that’s not safe yet. And then there’s the anti-vaxxers who aren’t going to have it. I’ve heard the numbers. 75. I don’t know if it’s truly 75 percent of the population that needs to be vaccinated for there to be sort of a herd immunity.

Emily: I’ve heard something similar. 

Educator: Yeah. So, in that regard, I kind of feel like I’m doing my part. And yeah, we’ll see. Hopefully it won’t kill me.

April: I admire that you’re willing to get it, even if you’re unsure about it. I think that’s a good example for other people who are in similar situations, maybe not feeling terribly thrilled about it, but trying to do it for the greater good. That’s awesome. 

Educator: Thank you. Yeah. Yeah. That’s how I feel.

April: Yeah. Where are we at with questions, Emily? Are we down toward the bottom, I think? 

Emily: Oh, I think we have one more. I think you touched a little on this. But if you wanted to go more into it, how have you personally experienced the pandemic? I mean, you can talk about teaching or not. However, I know you talked about that you weren’t able to see family sometimes. Have you experienced any personal hardships as a result? 

Educator: Well, personally, we were in Florida when it got real and they closed down the beaches. We were there. Myself and my two children for spring break. They closed down the beaches. They were closing down the restaurants. And we realized, oh, my God, we’ve got to get out of Dodge before while the getting’s still good. So, we called the airline and they changed it with no fee because I think a lot of people were calling and changing tickets. My cousin was going to Argentina to visit her parents and she had to drive. The airport is like two hours from her, the international airport, to get to Argentina. And they couldn’t reach anybody, couldn’t reach anybody, couldn’t reach anybody to cancel it. And she had to drive there the day of her flight to say, no, I’m not taking the flight. I want my money back. So, yeah, so we had to change our flight and come home. And then in Florida, my mother was there. I have two cousins who were there and their families. And we had planned on seeing all of these people and then we couldn’t. I mean, my mother, we had known before that we weren’t going to be able to see her because of it, but we weren’t as concerned with seeing my cousins. And then we realized, OK, we really need to not be seeing anybody. So, we came home. 

We did not go to Japan. That had been in the works. I mean, we were on the verge of of reserving stuff for this summer and then we made the hard decision. Not the hard decision. We made a call that I feel now was the right call because it happened to turn out really well. It could have turned out badly. But we rented a beach house and myself and my children, my brother and his wife and two children, my sister and her five children, and my mother spent time at the beach together. We were very conscious of not interacting with other people. But it was four households that came together and exposed ourselves to each other.

At the time, my nephew–actually how it personally affected family close to me, my nephew was in jail, and he was in jail here in Iowa. He’s from upstate New York like I am. And he showed up on my doorstep one day and he said they let me out. They let me out and I asked if I could use the phone to give you a heads up and they said no. And so, he walked the hour and a half or more in clothes that didn’t fit him because he had lost like 25 pounds and showed up on our doorstep. And I was like, I shouldn’t hug you, but you have nowhere else to go, and you’re coming in anyway. So, I welcomed him, and he came and lived with us again, which he had done previously. I also have a cousin there. So that was my nephew and I have a cousin who was in prison. And it’s insider trading, a white-collar crime. I don’t quite know exactly what. And he was released. He was released three years early. I think with sort of limitations or house arrest or something like that. But he got out because of COVID. Nonviolent criminals like my nephew and my cousin were very affected by COVID. I’m sure it was very scary being in the prison population, you know, with the overcrowding. So, he was very relieved. They were both very relieved to get out.

So, Florida and then Japan, we canceled. We did go to the beach. Japan, we’ve canceled again this summer. We are planning on going to a lake house. But that’s not until August. So, by then, I will have been vaccinated. My sister has already been vaccinated. She works in a school and she was doing COVID testing in the school. She lives in New York. So, they had different protocols and all of that going on. And apparently, they were doing random testing in her school. And so, she was hired to do that, or she was switched jobs to do that.

Personal … I mean, the stress of the whole thing and watching it all go down and what went down in Washington in the election. Oh, my God, it was just so stressful, it being so close. I would have cried for a good week if that man had gotten himself back into office. And it’s still really, really disconcerting to know how many people want him back, to know how many people out there are just completely on the other side of the fence, like completely don’t believe anything that I believe. It’s disconcerting to know. To realize. Yeah. But I think that’s my personal COVID experience, those things that happened. You know, the change of having smaller classes has been good for me. It’s been enjoyable. 

Oh, so I have a very close-knit neighborhood that I live in. During the summer we have what we call porch parties, where different people every week, usually on Thursdays, Thursday evenings–we get together on somebody’s porch or somebody’s backyard or somebody’s whatever. It starts Labor Day and ends Memorial–or is it Memorial Day, ends Labor Day, I think? I always confuse those two holidays. At any rate. So, there’s a big one on–I think it’s Memorial Day. And then everybody signs up for a porch party. And once a week throughout the entire summer, we see each other. And it’s, I don’t know, 20 different families. And sometimes you make it, sometimes you don’t. But we know our neighbors and we all know each other. And every year my household throws an Easter party for the neighborhood. And so, this is the second year in a row that I’ve not been able to host my Easter party. This is the second summer in a row now that we’re about to start that we won’t be having porch parties the same way that we did. We’ve done a few neighborhood Zooms, and that’s been really nice. But definitely, we’ve disconnected. I mean, I had a Zoom call the other day with my neighbor who lives across the street. That couple and myself and my husband sat down and talked to each other through the computer because we can’t get close. 

And an Iowa winter is so alienating to begin with. And to not be able to say, hey, let’s go have a coffee in the middle of January because you haven’t seen anybody’s face because it’s all hidden behind scarves or whatever. You just don’t see people. And so that’s been a big deal for me, not seeing my neighbors on a regular basis like we did. That’s a really special part about living in my neighborhood. I feel it’s sort of unusual. 

(speaking to her son)

All right. 

Emily: I know. I can only imagine how hard that’s been, too. I think it’s great you’re so close with your neighborhood. My home neighborhood, we’re not really close. And then strangely, it’s just so funny how this has affected all these neighborhoods because a woman on the block is a gym teacher. And she somehow got this idea that she was going to host outdoor workouts. And this is during the summer when you could actually go outside. So, we were not close at all as a block, and then somehow, we started doing outdoor–and it was just for the girls, I mean, any boys or men could join, but somehow it just was a fun girls thing. And that was so random but really fun. But that was like early pandemic. I think we’ve all gotten completely bludgeoned by it.

Educator: Right. Right. Before everybody realized they should be wearing masks.

Emily: Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, there was some–like it was outside, socially distanced for sure. Now you can’t do anything outside anymore. Like at least like when it gets warmer you can have that outside, like maybe sit with your neighbors in the backyard at opposite ends of the backyard and have that coffee. But you’re right, this winter is alienating on top of everything else.

Educator: Yeah, I feel bad for a lot of people, just the people who don’t–you know, the older people who are so scared. My neighbors on one side, he’s getting cancer treatments right now. They’re an older couple. That’s really scary. They’ve been super, super cautious. They don’t go anywhere anyway. You know, groceries are delivered. He disinfects the bags before bringing them in and this kind of thing. They’re super careful. Well, now he absolutely has to be with getting cancer treatments and his immune system being weakened. I don’t know why I brought that up.

Emily: All right, well, it’s getting a bit late, and I want to end it so you can actually get some sleep in. Sounds like people in your household are going to bed already. But anything else that you’d like to add before we sign off? Thanks again for talking with us. I think this has been our best interview, like the smoothest running interview.

Educator: Oh, great, great. Tell me, girls, what are you doing with the project?

Emily: Yes, so we’ve interviewed three people other than you so far. And we’re just collecting stories, seeing different perspectives, and we’re focusing on Iowa educators. We might branch out a little bit. But for now, just Iowa to see those different perspectives. And we put them on our blog. And it’s a pretty small audience on the blog. It’s usually other educators or youth who take part in our youth programs. We’re not really doing anything that we usually do with the Youth Writing Project. Usually we’ll help run after-school writing clubs and stuff and things with youth. But that’s kind of been put to a stop and or totally virtual. So, this has been a project specifically for the pandemic.

Educator: Right. Right. Are you still interviewing people?

Emily: Yes. Yeah.

Educator: What’s your goal? 

Emily: The goal for last semester, with those three interviews, April and I wrote a cumulative feature piece, each of us synthesizing everything that we heard. And then we’ll kind of add our own opinions, too. So, we put these interviews out for people to listen to or read, but then we’ll write an overarching commentary on it. I see it like a bit of a documentation to what’s happening. It’ll be interesting to go back and listen to these interviews as time goes on. 

Educator: I have a colleague who, if you’re interested, might be interested. Might be willing to speak with you. She’s been particularly concerned about COVID. She is very cautious and concerned. And she’s very active in our union. The union has been on this and feeling like we need to protect ourselves. We’ve spoken out against the administration. But now in order to keep things more private, we have made our own group chat, WhatsApp group, where we can discuss these things and not do it over the school system and over the school emails. So that feels like, you know, we’ve had to protect ourselves in this way and protect our ideas and our thoughts and our concerns until they can be presented in sort of a group format or talking to the school board or sending a letter straight to the school board, which is basically going over the head of the superintendent. Yeah. So, there’s been some acrimonious feelings there. But there’s this particular person I think would be interesting to speak to. She would be a different viewpoint, because she’s a lot more COVID-stressed than I am.

Emily: Yeah. If you wouldn’t mind sending her contact info, you could text it to us at any point.

Educator: Let me speak with her on Monday and see if it’s something she would be interested in doing. I have three colleagues that I know, but she in particular I feel like might be interesting to interview.

Emily: Definitely. You know, that’s part of the goal, too, just to give teachers a voice, because I do feel that sometimes they’re so focused on working for the kids and tirelessly for their students that I think sometimes their opinions get overlooked. So hopefully this project will shed light on some opinions of teachers. That’s my hope. 

April: That was definitely a big consideration just for what we’re doing in general. We didn’t set out with a goal of like this many people and then turn it into this kind of thing. It’s more just thinking about how many voices we need to listen to at a time like this, you know, how many people have been affected by the pandemic in different ways. We saw this need to understand how teachers have been experiencing it and really try to get all of your voices out there. It’s so helpful just to hear what your experience has been. So, thank you again for speaking to us. 

Educator: Well, thank you for pulling it together, girls. It sounds like an interesting project. And you know how as human beings, we love to talk about ourselves, so it’s a good format to vent a little bit.

Emily: Definitely.

Educator: So, yeah. This has been enjoyable. I’m glad to have been any sort of help.

(cut out the rest of the audio)

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