School Committee Hears Teacher Feedback

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Jan. 19, 2021—The exigencies of being a Bedford teacher during the Covid-19 pandemic are taking their toll.

Principals of Bedford four schools told the School Committee last week that most teachers are hurting. But they are also models of “flexibility, adaptability, resiliency.”

“People are tired and frustrated – and we don’t blame them,” said John Glenn Middle School Principal Kevin Tracy. But he emphasized, “You would not be able to tell that if you were in our schools.” He added that appreciation for town support was clear from staff feedback.

Bedford High School Heather Galante said the feedback was acquired through several channels: surveys at the end of last school year and at the beginning of this one, school council meetings, faculty, and departmental meetings, and, less formally, emails, phone conversations, and principals’ walks through their buildings.

She said general themes emerged from the scores of comments: health and safety, self-care and wellness, expectations and workload, and teaching and learning.

The goal of the summary, Galante said, is to provide a perspective from pre-kindergarten through high school, based on feedback received this year.

Tracey outlined some “consistent patterns” detected from responses: students’ emotional and physical health, teachers’ falling short of expectations, the impact on learning, the ability for students to keep up. Other concerns he listed were teacher and student burnout, student engagement, increased workload, the value of assessment data.

“As we were reading these open responses, we were really struck by the professionalism and commitment to kids.”

The crisis “has caused some staff to overhaul what they’ve done for a lot of years,” Tracey said. “Watching the staff beat themselves up at times is awful.”

“The majority of the staff feels very safe and comfortable if current protocols are in place,” Tracey said the survey results show. “The number one concern with catching Covid is worry about keeping family members safe.”

Rob Ackerman, Lane School principal, acknowledged that “the only way we are able to pull off what we are doing is for staff to work longer and work harder. And that has obvious downsides.” Every model requires more work, and for teachers, it’s “essentially a new job this year.”

Among the losses being mourned are informal planning and collaboration with colleagues, he said. For experienced teachers, in particular, there is “a continuous feeling of failure. The teachers are doing more than a good enough job. They doing an unbelievable one.”

A majority of responses indicate that staff is feeling increased stress, manifested by headaches, trouble sleeping, fatigue and anxiety. Teachers are worried about their own and their families’ health, as well as students’ physical and emotional health, Ackerman reported.

“I had trouble reading comments from Lane – I was disturbed and moved at the same time by what they are going through,” Ackerman said. “It is absolutely taking its toll.” He noted that for staff, even calling in as absent is stressful because substitute teachers are so hard to find.”

Davis School Principal Beth Benoit addressed the issue of ways to help. Teachers need “opportunities to share their feelings and build upon each other’s ideas and knowledge,” she said. They also treasure common preparation and planning time. “The thank-yous and the understanding from families are critical in supporting children, even if the learning environment isn’t ideal,” she stated.

School Committee members were moved by the feedback report. “This provides an important window,” said JoAnn Santiago. Her colleague Brad Morrison observed, “I just wish I had words to express how much we do care and how much we appreciate all the work they are doing.”

“Can we find a way to relieve the stress, building in some ways to have a release valve?” Morrison wondered.

“Some of this is hard to hear, said committee Chair Dan Brosgol. “This committee has not wavered one inch from safety protocols. I know teachers know that. This is feedback that we need to make better decisions.” He added that feedback can be positive or negative but it must be ongoing.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763
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