Returning to the Classroom: Teachers Worry About Loved Ones

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Jenna Toner became a mom for the second time, to a bouncing baby boy, eight weeks ago. As she prepares to return to her teaching job in Manchester, she can’t help but have concerns.

“Not having enough information out there, I’m worried as a parent,” she said of her newborn’s health.

Toner, who has chronic asthma, said her worries extend beyond herself, but to her own children and the children she teaches.

“I worry about what they could potentially be bringing home,” she said.

Lynn Arrigoni, a New London math intervention teacher shared Toner’s concern.

“I work in a city. We have multi-generational families,” the Dover Middle School teacher said.

Toner believes that the state’s guidelines leave too much up to the school districts, a lack of consistency that she predicts will lead to problems.

Jenna Toner is a special education teacher in Manchester. She has chronic asthma and a newborn son.

“I’ve spoken to other teachers from other districts, friends of mine, and they have felt in the dark, and I’m going that’s not fair,” she said.

Arrigoni doesn’t believe the state has taken the concerns of teachers into account and she hopes that will change at the local level.

“Let’s have teachers part of the discussion rather than just telling us that we need to go back, kids are resilient, kids will get through this,” said Arrigoni.

Southington Superintendent Timothy Connellan said he’s preparing for up to 10% of his staff to choose not to return to the classroom this fall. At Southington High School, that could mean up to 20 teachers and staff members.

“High school for us is a very, very difficult nut to crack. Our high school is 2,000 students and not all of our teachers have their own classrooms,” said Connellan.

The district will soon put out a survey asking teachers about their plans.

“We have almost 600 teachers. If it were 10%, that’s 60 folks spread out across 13 different grade levels,” he added.

He said keeping students and staff safe at the high school will be the biggest challenge.

“We can create one-way hallways but unless we lessen the number of students we’re going to have very crowded conditions,” Connellan explained.

He pointed out that not every teacher has their own classroom. While some share rooms, others travel from room to room throughout the day.

“Those logistics are difficult to attack and that’s been the elephant in the room quite frankly. The state department of education hasn’t really addressed it,” he said.

Arrigoni worried about the health of her parents, who she helps care for. Her father has COPD.

"My dad is terminally ill. COVID will kill him,” said Lynn Arrigoni, a New London middle school teacher.

“It’s just me earning the money for my household. I can’t afford to be told 'you have to return or you don’t get a paycheck,'” she said.

Rather than staying home, Arrigoni wants to hear more about what her district will do to keep her and her students safe.

“It concerns me that we’re not talking beyond wearing a mask,” she said. “We’re not thinking ahead. I teach in an old building. I don’t have air conditioning in my classroom.”

She also worried about obtaining and paying for cleaning supplies, which teachers are often on the hook for.

“Trying to find Lysol wipes is like going on a hunt for buried treasure,” Arrigoni pointed out.

Leaving Teaching Behind

“No matter how many times you give them direction, kids are kids and that’s my big concern,” said Arrigoni’s colleague at Dover Middle School, Jessica Cruz.

She said the pandemic may prompt her to leave her teaching career behind.

“Teaching is a passion of mine. I love teaching,” the sixth-grade language arts teacher said. “However, when it comes to health I kind of have to shift priorities.”

Cruz’s eight-year-old adoptive brother who she shares her home with while her mother goes to work in a hospital lab suffers from chronic lung disease.

“I do not need him getting sick with this,” said Cruz.

She said her brother will likely be homeschooled and thinks teachers should have the opportunity to work from home as well.

“If their parents don’t feel safe they can keep the kids at home. Are teachers given that same option?  Last time I checked, no,” she said.

Toner with her six-year-old daughter Gianna and eight-week-old son Rhett.

Toner said if given the choice, she would teach from home at the start of the school year.

“I love my job, I love my coworkers, I love my kids. I want to see my students. I don’t know it’s always possible to maintain a six-foot distance. I know it’s not possible,” she said.

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