For the past month the entire school district has been virtual, and teachers have had to adapt to silent classrooms and black boxes of students across their computer screens. This silence takes a toll on teachers’ social and emotional health.

“School without kids is a pretty lonely and desolate place. It’s surreal to see empty desks, a quiet cafeteria and open halls,” business teacher Megan Finch said.

The main focus during this time of COVID has been on students and making sure they are okay and focusing on their physical and mental well-being, but the staff is under strain, as well.

“It’s emotionally and physically draining,” said math teacher Jared Plaza. “A lot of us went into this profession because not only were we good at the content, you want to develop the relationship with kids, and you feel like, for me with math, I get math. I understand it. I want to be there to help kids who maybe aren’t the best at math and also develop those relationships.”

The increase in virtual learning has created a tough atmosphere for teachers to stay positive.

“It is challenging to be enthusiastic while teaching when looking at a screen of names. Teaching is a people profession, and teachers tailor instruction with immediate feedback from students. Without any response from kids, that is difficult to do. It’s probably a lot like being a stand up comedian with no one laughing at your jokes,” Finch said. 

Teachers spend a lot of their time preparing lessons knowing they will need student feedback to better help students learn the material and to develop that teacher-student relationship that tends to be increasingly lacking during this time.

“All of a sudden I’m teaching to 20 black squares. I’m not developing relationships, and I can’t see them working, so I don’t know how to help them. So, it’s very, very tough because it kind of defeats the purpose of why a lot of us went into this in the first place,” Plaza said.

This real-life virtual experience is really taking a toll on the teaching staff’s stress levels. 

“My stress level is pretty high. It’s like a roller coaster. I feel like I never leave my chair. I’m so used to getting up and walking around and talking with the kids, and for the first three hours, I just sit here, and I’m planning and prepping my Smartboard, and it’s like I never leave this little cubby. I don’t have the time to leave it,” Plaza said. 

Teachers spend the majority of their day in their classrooms. Although there are other staff members in the building, their priority is to keep themselves safe, healthy, and socially-distanced from others. Therefore, staff relationships have also been difficult to pursue with in-person face-to-face connections. Even many of their discussions and conversations are done virtually. 

“Teachers are socially distancing every day. Most teachers eat at their desks and spend the majority of their time in their classrooms alone. Meetings are on Zoom. We are all feeling a sense of isolation, and that includes our ability to connect with one another. The staff cares about and is concerned for one another, but it is difficult to connect as a larger group,” Finch said.

It is also difficult for veteran staff to help the new young teachers become a part of the Tiger community. 

“Nobody ever sees anyone. I’ve talked more through things like Facebook Messenger and Google chats, while I’m working throughout the day and evening hours than I ever have. So, that’s been nice. I think we have a really unique group this year as we have so many new teachers, and I feel bad because you want to help them and acclimate them to the school,” said Plaza. “There are so many young staff that you want to be there for and go do fun things, you know, go to sporting events and hang-out outside of school and make them feel welcome into the community. I feel really bad because when I first got here there were so many staff that did that for me and made me feel like this was home when it wasn’t.”

Teachers are lacking connection and in-person relationships just as much as students are during the virtual period. After experiencing both styles of learning, students and educators understand the benefits of face-to-face instruction.

“Teachers and students are healthier people when they are able to connect in-person. We are all very isolated and feeling overwhelmed at the moment. Current circumstances have added stress to the lives of parents, students and teachers. When we are face-to-face, teachers and students can “be in the moment.” We can encourage and support one another more easily. When our stress levels are lower, we feel a sense of calm, a sense of well being. Obstacles don’t seem quite so challenging when we are together,” Finch said.

Although we can’t be in-person right now, teachers still want to see and connect with students. 

“We don’t care how you look. We don’t care if you have a Minnesota Vikings poster on your wall. We don’t care about any of that, we want to see you, we want to help you, we miss having you here,” said Plaza.

The main focus during this time of COVID has been on students and making sure they are okay and focusing on their physical and mental well-being, but the staff is under strain, as well

“It’s emotionally and physically draining,” said math teacher Jared Plaza. “A lot of us went into this profession because not only were we good at the content, you want to develop the relationship with kids, and you feel like, for me with math, I get math. I understand it. I want to be there to help kids who maybe aren’t the best at math and also develop those relationships.”

The increase in virtual learning has created a tough atmosphere for teachers to stay positive.

“It is challenging to be enthusiastic while teaching when looking at a screen of names. Teaching is a people profession, and teachers tailor instruction with immediate feedback from students. Without any response from kids, that is difficult to do. It’s probably a lot like being a stand up comedian with no one laughing at your jokes,” Finch said. 

Teachers spend a lot of their time preparing lessons knowing they will need student feedback to better help students learn the material and to develop that teacher-student relationship that tends to be increasingly lacking during this time.

“All of a sudden I’m teaching to 20 black squares. I’m not developing relationships, and I can’t see them working, so I don’t know how to help them. So, it’s very, very tough because it kind of defeats the purpose of why a lot of us went into this in the first place,” Plaza said.

This real-life virtual experience is really taking a toll on the teaching staff’s stress levels. 

“My stress level is pretty high. It’s like a roller coaster. I feel like I never leave my chair. I’m so used to getting up and walking around and talking with the kids, and for the first three hours I just sit here, and I’m planning and prepping my Smartboard, and it’s like I never leave this little cubby. I don’t have the time to leave it,” Plaza said. 

Teachers spend a majority of their day in their classrooms. Although there are other staff members in the building, their priority is to keep themselves safe, healthy, and socially-distanced from others. Therefore, staff relationships have also been difficult to pursue with in-person face-to-face connections. Even many of their discussions and conversations are done virtually. 

“Teachers are socially distancing every day. Most teachers eat at their desks and spend the majority of their time in their classrooms alone. Meetings are on Zoom. We are all feeling a sense of isolation and that includes our ability to connect with one another. The staff cares about and is concerned for one another, but it is difficult to connect as a larger group,” Finch said.

It is also difficult for veteran staff to help the new young teachers become a part of the Tiger community. 

“Nobody ever sees anyone. I’ve talked more through things like Facebook Messenger and Google chats, while I’m working throughout the day and evening hours than I ever have. So, that’s been nice. I think we have a really unique group this year as we have so many new teachers, and I feel bad because you want to help them and acclimate them to the school,” said Plaza. “There are so many young staff that you want to be there for and go do fun things, you know, go to sporting events and hang-out outside of school and make them feel welcome into the community. I feel really bad because when I first got here there were so many staff that did that for me and made me feel like this was home when it wasn’t.”

Teachers are lacking connection and in-person relationships just as much as students are during the virtual period. After experiencing both styles of learning, students and educators understand the benefits of face-to-face instruction.

“Teachers and students are healthier people when they are able to connect in-person. We are all very isolated and feeling overwhelmed at the moment. Current circumstances have added stress to the lives of parents, students and teachers. When we are face-to-face, teachers and students can “be in the moment.” We can encourage and support one another more easily. When our stress levels are lower, we feel a sense of calm, a sense of well being. Obstacles don’t seem quite so challenging when we are together,” Finch said.

Although we can’t be in-person right now, teachers still want to see and connect with students. 

“We don’t care how you look. We don’t care if you have a Minnesota Vikings poster on your wall. We don’t care about any of that, we want to see you, we want to help you, we miss having you here,” said Plaza.

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Faith Leisgang is a senior at Black River Falls High School and it's her first year as a reporter for the Paw Print. She enjoys covering stories that relate directly to the students, mainly sports coverage and other enjoyable student activities. She is the captain of the cheerleading team and is a part of the shooting tigers sporting clays, trap, and skeet team. She is excited to keep you updated on the happenings with Tiger Athletics this year!