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California Teacher Readies Her Classroom For When Students May Return

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We know the challenges for teachers this year - managing new technology, trying to connect with students over computer screens, protecting their own health. Now add parenting five kids to that mix. That's what Rosie Reid is managing this school year. And she is our next conversation in our series Learning Curve. She's been teaching for almost two decades. But this is her first year at Ygnacio Valley High School in California outside San Francisco. Her district is starting out all virtual. But she had the option to go into the school where she teaches.

ROSIE REID: Our house is only 1,800 square feet. And it's only three bedrooms with seven people here currently. And so there was really no quiet place to go and work in the spring. That was very challenging. I always did my classes sitting on my bed. And I'd hear other teachers talking about how we shouldn't let kids do their Zooms from their bed. And I was, you know, kind of grimacing because I (laughter) often had to teach from my bed because it was the only available space where I could lock the door and have some quiet.

MARTIN: Did you decorate your classroom?

REID: Oh, yeah. My classroom looks amazing. It has...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

REID: I turn the lights on every day. I have little twinkle lights all over the walls. I made it an amazing, beautiful space, A, because I want it to be a place I want to go and be inspired and, B, because we never know when we're going to go back. And I want it to be really ready for students as soon as they give us the go ahead.

MARTIN: Do you feel safe going into the building, taking your kids in there?

REID: I do. So in California, most of our schools are outdoors. And they have just wings. So I walk into my wing, where very few people come in ever because most people are choosing to work from home. Everybody is very good about masking. And my kids do their school in the morning. And then they mostly go outside and play. So it feels pretty safe to me.

MARTIN: And how are your kids doing thus far with virtual learning, your actual children? - I'll ask you about your students in a minute, but your kids.

REID: It's a really interesting question because I feel like they have really thrived in some ways in the last six months. And that's really hard for me to say because I appreciate so much, everything that's been done for them. And yet I feel like the industrial-era model of education with kids sitting so much and receiving so much was really not working for any of my kids. And I think going into all this, I had honestly thought, I guess my kids are just going to be really average students.

And in the course of the last six months, they have all gotten much better at reading. They've all become better students, like, at just sitting down and doing their work, at being proactive, at kind of being responsible for themselves. And I know that not every family has had the luxury of having adults at home to help their kids and, you know, being financially stable. There's so much that goes into that. But I feel like my kids are really thriving in this environment. And that makes me have a lot of mixed feelings about - I want my kids to go back to school. I love their schools. But I want our schools to be different when we go back in a way that's a little more student-centered and creates more space for them.

MARTIN: What about kids who just had a horrible time in the spring and really did lose those months? Are you finding that you need to play catch-up with them? And are there just some kids who aren't going to learn well this way?

REID: There are a lot of kids who aren't going to learn well this way. And I think that that's really important for us to acknowledge, that my kids' experience is not every kid's experience. So many students have been the primary caregivers for their younger siblings. So they have not been able to focus on their own learning. So many kids have had to go out and get jobs to help support their families. And so the schooling was just really not happening.

Other kids, you know, it's really hard for them just to sit on a screen all day - talk about sitting still. And I do think we absolutely have to go back to school as soon as it's safe to do so. And I'm not as worried about the gaps. I think people worry about that too much. I think when kids come back in, the key is just going to be to figure out where our students are and create learning experiences for where they are, not where they should be.

MARTIN: So what about your students? It's been three weeks. You've been teaching. You've got - what? - 180 students you're responsible for.

REID: So I do have 180 students. And I would say that the first couple of weeks, it was a little bit like crickets. But this last week, they've really started to talk to each other a little bit more. And they're completing most of their assignments. And I feel pretty good about it. It's hard because I think I was a really, really, really good teacher in the classroom. But now I'm working really long hours and not feeling like I'm a really good teacher (laughter). But I feel like the kids are going to be OK.

MARTIN: You were teacher of the year last year, right? And you did a good job for those students. And others recognized you for that. And I have to imagine you do feel that same level of pressure under really difficult circumstances right now to live up to that.

REID: I think that pressure is always there. I was up late last night working on my lessons for my classes today. And I had the thought several times - I could make this so much easier on myself. But I always feel this pressure to provide my students with a teacher-of-the-year class and experience. And I try to release myself from that and say, hey, that was a different context. But I don't want to ever lower my standards for myself. And that has created a lot of stress for me.

MARTIN: You sound - I mean, we haven't been talking very long. But I can discern that you are, by nature, an optimistic kind of soul. Do you think that's fair?

REID: Yeah. I'm a really happy person. And I generally look at tasks and think, how can we solve this problem? - whether it's with a student who is having trouble doing their work or maybe a systemic problem in the school - to help serve more students or with my own kids? What's the solution to this problem? A lot of my friends are always saying, stop solving problems and just listen. I'm like, OK, OK, OK.

One thing that my husband has noticed about me, though, is that at the end of the day, like, late at, like, 10 or 11, I'll say to my husband, I'm sad. And he's like, no, you're not. You're tired. You'll only ever say that when you're really, really tired. And I have been saying that a lot more, where around 9, 9:30, 10 o'clock, I turn to my husband and I say, I'm feeling sad. And he's like, you're just really tired. I'll say, oh, yeah. OK. And then I go to sleep. And then, the next morning, he's right. I feel better again. So there is a strong overlap for me with incredible exhaustion (laughter) and sadness. And that has been happening a little bit more but really only late at night.

MARTIN: Do you give yourself permission, though, to actually just feel sad sometimes? There's a lot going on in the world.

REID: Yeah. There is a lot going on in the world. And it's good to feel that sadness. I've - I also feel like, for me, it doesn't really help me. I get stuck there. So it's easier for me to acknowledge the sadness and then move into action mode and really start working on it. And that's just - that's what works for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF THEODORE SHAPIRO'S "SAINTS AMONG US") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.