Education: Meet Amanda, an English Teacher in Overland Park, KS

Interviewer: Shaurir Ramanujan; July 11, 2020

Interviewee: Mrs. Amanda Ford, English Teacher @ Blue Valley Northwest High school in Overland Park, KS

The exterior of Blue Valley Northwest High school in Overland Park, KS (Wikipedia).

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your occupation? How does your occupation impact the local community?

I am a high school teacher. The last school year was my tenth year in education, so what a way to celebrate the anniversary. I have been at a variety of different schools, mostly high schools. This was my first year at my current high school, so that was also an interesting wrinkle. I have been an English educator with a stint in Debate and Forensics coaching and teaching. I would say my impact on the community is what you would expect of a teacher, largely; I am responsible for helping to raise other people’s kids, teach them right and to advance our society and civic responsibilities...those things that are inherent to being a teacher - taking care of people, helping them move along in their own journey and their own life - that is essential to what I do.

What were some of the obstacles you faced as you transitioned to online teaching, either in your personal life or professionally?

There were some in both. Personally, some of the obstacles were having a now 2 year old, who was less than 2 when the pandemic began. Obviously, we stopped sending her to daycare, since we had the privilege to do so, with my husband and I both working from home. He is also a teacher, and so it was hard, especially that first week or so, figuring out how we were going to do this all from home. How were we going to keep a toddler entertained and safe, and do all of our responsibilities of our jobs...we had an actual whiteboard in our house, well of course we did because we are teachers, with all of our Zoom meetings scheduled for who was on and who was off [meetings]. That got easier as it went, we developed a routine and rhythm, and figured out which things were going to be harder and easier. But that was very intimidating at first - navigating how to parent and teach simultaneously. Professionally, I do not feel as though I had a ton of obstacles, at least institutionally; I think that our district, our building and our state did a really good job of supporting teachers and showing what was expected of us and making sure that it was reasonable given what was out there…now, side of that, one challenge was how do I do my job now? How do I try and meet each kid where they are when I am so limited by distance? Knowing that sometimes I had to let a kid go, essentially, and that was antithetical to everything I have ever done in my whole career.

"...that was very intimidating at first - navigating how to parent and teach simultaneously."

How did COVID-19 change how you balanced work with your personal life since you began teaching at home?

It’s weird, my home-life balance actually got better. Because we were home all the time and we knew how out of control it could get if we weren’t careful, we were much more careful about setting boundaries - when were we working and when were we not. During regular school, it was not uncommon for me to work all day at school, come home, spend maybe 2-3 hours at home doing frantic home chores and it was right back to grading papers all night. That stopped happening when COVID happened. That was really for 2 reasons; one we were really clear about those boundaries with ourselves, because home is work is home, we have to draw those boundaries. At 4:30 or 5 every day, I shut the laptop and put it away, I did not pick it up again until the next morning for most of distance learning. The other reason was that there was less to do, with the restriction of how much time we were asking students to spend at school, that naturally decreased the amount of product they were putting out that I had to review. There were fewer lessons to plan because there were fewer lessons to be had, and we [planned] as a team.

How has your outlook on the pandemic changed as we have progressed through it?

It has been a real roller coaster...where do we go from here? How do we ever get out of this, especially given events of recent weeks...The mixed messaging from leadership has left us in a sticky situation that is scary. The topic of conversation in my socially distant circles is what is the fall going to look like? What is school going to look like? What is life going to look like? The only consensus is that there is no win. There is no way to make everybody happy…and that is the part that is scary now, is not knowing what the unknown is going to look like.

"There is no way to make everybody happy…and that is the part that is scary now, is not knowing what the unknown is going to look like."

How do you think the pandemic is going to change how you teach in the fall of the school year?

I do think that there will be some changes for good. We did learn some things about ourselves and our curriculum, and how we interact with students during distance learning that I think will actually improve some things about how we go about business, if we ever do get to go back to normal. I am worried, though, for the negative side of how it is going to affect [the fall]. I am worried about how often I get to see every student, in person if at all…How do we keep ourselves safe? Yes it was my job that you understood and rhetoric, but it was also my job to keep [students] safe and make sure they are well as a person...everyone is traumatized by this experience, including the teachers. We all have lived through trauma, now. It is such a buzzword thing, lately, to talk about “trauma informed teaching,” you know, where does that idea go now that there is this additional layer of trauma that affects literally every person in the building. That part is scary and intimidating to think about as well. How do I have the capacity to be both roles when the latter role has expanded so vastly?

"We all have lived through trauma, now."

How do you feel your local community has been impacted by COVID 19?

My local community is slightly different than the school local community. I do not live in the school district in which I teach, although they are very similar to each other…If we’re going super local, [my community] wasn’t really impacted a ton, to be honest. I live in an area where people have stable jobs, a lot of people work from home. I did see and meet a lot more of my neighbors, because we were all here all the time, and desperate to get outside in our yards and holler at each other from down the street. So, in that way, I guess things have actually improved a bit. But then, as we expanded the definition of local, the metro area certainly has been impacted and felt the ramifications of unemployment much more. You see the lines of people at food banks because they have no other way to get food, and you think about all the people showing up every day to get the food from school... my heart has been heavy for months now, thinking about the people who don’t have it as good as I do. My home and my neighborhood, we are very privileged. We have everything that we need to get through this’s bizarre, in some ways, that we benefited from it such as the additional time at home. Even financially, I was still getting paid to do my job fully employed, but we pulled my daughter out of daycare, that’s money saved. We got the stimulus check, that’s money’s very bizarre to be in this place of privilege, surrounded by all of these people who don’t have it. I read about the news and about the unemployment numbers and even on Facebook mom groups…it’s bizarre to see how differently this universal experience is impacting all of these groups of people.

Are there any comments or advice that you would like to add for anyone reading?

I think the best advice that we all need to take right now is to stay informed. While we are very overwhelmed right now and for a long time, with a plateau of high stress… it is really important still to keep searching for the facts, and that they are always going to be presented to you in a certain way. That’s a lesson I try to teach at school too, be part of the world around you, search for truth, be a critical thinker. That stuff is even more important now, it's for our literal survival...that stuff matters right now. Just keep trying to do the best we can, one day at a time.