SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — No matter how you feel about Springfield Public Schools’ re-entry plan, yesterday was a special day for teachers. Just ask Armando Johnson, a Spanish teacher at Central High School who has been teaching at SPS for nine years.
“I was excited because we’ve been at home since March 13,” Johnson said. “I always kind of laugh about it, I’ve only worn pants twice since we’ve been out of school. I know that [SPS] was going to make a decision that would positively affect our community.”
Johnson was named the district’s 2020-2021 teacher of the year in April. He’ll be educating two groups of kids separated into alphabetical order: A-K and L-Z.
“I know Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday is when the kids get to see all of this beautiful face,” Johnson said. “That’s what I tell them.”
On Wednesdays, SPS will be doing a deep cleaning of its facilities. Johnson says he feels good about health and safety heading into the fall.
“My classroom’s pretty big, so I feel blessed that I know we’ll be able to effectively socially distance,” Johnson said. “With fewer kids in the classroom, I know it’ll be easier to socially distance and keep everything clean. I know I’m willing to chip in and do whatever it takes to keep everything going for our students.”
The switch to virtual learning was an easy adjustment. Johnson says he’s good at using a lot of characters, voices and memes to engage students. But, what means more to him is getting to teach in person again.
“Being in a classroom, I feel like that’s where I work my magic,” Johnson said. “It’s just that personal interactions with students, building relationships. I can’t wait to be that energy guy in the morning because I’m a morning person. Kids, they don’t like that, but that’s too bad. I miss giving them something to laugh about, being goofy in front of the students. I miss going to our elementary [schools] and working with our kids in basketball. Those are things that I will hopefully have an opportunity to do soon.”
The district’s plan states that students will have the option to choose whether they want to go back to school virtually or do a blend of in-person and virtual. Johnson says he’s aware of the mixed reactions surrounding that.
“Your personal situation is going to be different from someone else’s,” Johnson said. “I would never look down on someone who believes their kids don’t need to be in school or want them to be in school five days a week. I know that our district is taking the necessary precautions.”
Elizabeth Leo was on SPS’ re-entry team. Leo is a cross-categorical special education teacher at David Harrison Elementary School.
“It was never our desire to start on a reduced capacity model,” Leo said. “Our intention was always – every single person on that team—the intention was to get kids back in school as safely as possible.”
Leo has been with the district for more than 20 years. She says she was surprised about the model, but it makes sense considering the logistics regarding following state, federal and local health guidelines.
“I understand why it’s being done, and I am very supportive of our district, and I know how hard everyone worked,” Leo said. “But, it certainly isn’t the perfect situation for anyone. Teachers, students, families.”
She says the district did their very best, and it wants to revisit the plan at the end of the first quarter.
“I hope that when they revisit it that all of the things that have been put in place by our school district and surrounding districts in our community allow us to all be back together full-time,” Leo said. “We miss our kids, and we know that kids do learn better through seated instruction in classes than they do virtually.”
On Facebook, one SPS teacher, who would like to remain anonymous, wrote part of the following on Facebook:
“I understand that you WANT your child to be back in school five days a week. I understand that you NEED childcare and that schools only allowing your child to attend two days a week is not ideal. It is stressful and overwhelming and you’re scared and uncertain how in the world you are going to manage that being a working parent/working family, a single parent, a PARENT. I see you and I understand that this is so scary and new territory. But, (and here’s where I make some of you mad), it is NOT the school’s job to provide childcare for you!”
Leo says she understands that statement, but she wants to set the record straight.
“The truth of the matter is that we’re not childcare, we’re more than that,” Leo said. “But, at the same time, parents rely on the school district to know that they have a place that is safe, loving and nurturing for their kids to go every day. While we are not childcare, we are the person caring for their children all day, every day.”
She says she knows it’s difficult for parents right now, as they have to regroup and figure out how they’re going to make this routine work.
“As a district, I know that is not something that we like to see our parents having to do,” Leo said. “But, we do hope that we can get back in the classroom as soon as possible so that they’re not continuing with that struggle.”