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'Nightmares' Of Black Zoom Boxes: A Day In The Life of An Oakland Remote Learning Teacher

 March 9, 2021 at 10:43 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 The debate over reopening schools is heating up here in California. Governor Gavin Newsom has signed a bill that offers over $6 billion to help get schools back to in-person instruction. But the issue of returning to in-person instruction is polarizing parents, teachers, and communities. Speaker 2: 00:19 They're having emotional issues. My kindergartner now is refusing to do the work and just flipping the lid of her tablet down. And my fourth grader is, has been diagnosed during the time with clinical depression and has had suicide ideation. Speaker 3: 00:32 Well, I never met my teacher in person, so I really want to meet my teacher. And there's some new kids in my class who I haven't met Swan to meet them too. Speaker 2: 00:44 I'm a special education teacher. I'm also a parent and you see the comments and the vitriolic just that what's being thrown at us about how we teachers are just, you know, sitting on our laurels, collecting our huge paychecks. I don't know what world these folks are living in. I definitely didn't get into teaching for the big, the big bucks, right? Speaker 3: 01:00 I think ultimately the result will be many people will move away or enrolled in pup, in private schools or charter schools. And that will further hurt the district that is hurting already. Speaker 4: 01:12 I've known too many people to have Corona virus to feel comfortable going back. The people pushing to return to in person are typically more privileged. If you got COVID, would you be going to a hospital where you have full health insurance? Do you have a guest room where you can quarantine, would you be putting your grandmother or your mother or your, you know, who else would you be putting at risk? Uh, my father, a longshoreman and their motto is an injury to one is an injury to all. And so I feel like that is the motto we need to have with. COVID like, if we are risking one grandmother dying, one teacher dying, one custodian dying, one student dying, then it's not worth it. Speaker 1: 02:02 That last voice you heard is Whitney Dwyer. She's a teacher in Oakland and she's worried about teenagers at her high school, spreading the virus while she's cautious about reopening. She's also aware that distance learning is taking a toll on students. And parents is also taking a toll on teachers like her, especially those with their own kids at home. KQBD Vanessa Rancano asked Dwyer to keep an audio diary for a day, documenting her every move. Speaker 4: 02:35 So I just woke up. I set my alarm for six. I usually wake up at six 30, but Speaker 2: 02:42 Dwyer teaches 10th grade at MetWest high school in Oakland. She's gotta be ready for class in two and a half hours. But right now she's got other things on her mind Speaker 4: 02:52 Trying to debate. If I should go to the grocery store right now, we can't go grocery shopping with the kids. So it's less stressful if I go while they're sleeping. And then my husband doesn't have to worry about watching them while I go. And she's Speaker 2: 03:06 Already hearing from her students Speaker 4: 03:08 Also that a texts from my students saying that his power is on and off last night when I was asleep. So he may not make it to class today. And he may not be the only one. I'm also pizza, because that was the only breakfast we had that I could take him. Speaker 2: 03:26 She decides to make that dash to the store. Breakfast is a slice of leftover pizza on the way driving home. She runs through a list of the things she needs to get done before her class starts at 9:00 AM. Speaker 4: 03:38 Wake up the kids, get them dressed. Cereal, make sure the two year old uses the potty. Speaker 2: 03:45 Whitney has three kids, Brendan nine, Grayson seven and Maxwell too. Speaker 4: 03:51 I really hope that I can keep my patients. I've really been impressed with the amount of patients. I've been able to have Speaker 2: 04:00 Brendan and Greece in need to be on their computers to start school. Now her husband, Anthony gives Maxwell blocks and puzzles while she settles into the guest room, that's become her office. It's eight 30. Speaker 4: 04:14 So here's my, my setup. Distance learning really requires two screens. Um, I'm going to start class now, right? So our agenda for today, we are going to review and recap with a lightning round Speaker 2: 04:32 17 of her 21, humanity students show up all of them have their cameras off. Speaker 4: 04:37 I also want to remind you that your participation credit goes up. If your camera is on, I'm feeling a little lonely. Although sometimes I get tired of sounding desperate, please. I just feel so alone. Can someone just turn their camera on? It doesn't even have to be on your face. It could be at a window. Speaker 2: 04:58 Whitney's had to adjust to the silence too. Speaker 4: 05:00 Any questions about that? Feel like I was just talking a lot Speaker 2: 05:04 Answers. Almost always come over zoom chat. And sometimes only Whitney can see them. It's like listening to half a conversation. Speaker 4: 05:11 Thank you, Yvonne. I don't know about all that. Speaker 2: 05:14 What might've been classroom chatter is now a series of chat, exchanges and texts, shorthand, LOL Ella Mayo, OMG, T Y Y w question Mark. Sometimes Whitney can tell her students aren't actually at their computers Speaker 4: 05:29 A little bit more from you. Speaker 2: 05:30 As she teaches about the Aztecs and the Mayans using a new digital tool. She's got her troubleshoot on the side. Speaker 4: 05:37 So I'm like trying to teach. And then I'm like, it's like private chat, chat, text. It's it's a lot to navigate. Speaker 2: 05:46 One moment. When the topic of slave labor among the Mayans comes up where there's something almost like a normal class discussion. Speaker 4: 05:55 I could argue our society. I mean, there are like very low wages. Speaker 2: 06:05 The limitations are still painfully clear. It's hard to hear. They can't see each other. Speaker 4: 06:10 Teaching over zoom basically takes away almost everything that I enjoy about teaching. Now it's just, you know, nightmares of black boxes. Bye y'all. Speaker 2: 06:25 There are still moments of connection. After class 16 year old memo Martinez stays on to get advice. He even turns his camera on at this school. All students are expected to take on internships, memos, having a hard time picking one, Speaker 4: 06:40 Just say, I only want interested in. I'm like, Oh, why did I do this? And after that, another interest happens here. If I go into cooking, then I'm like, yo, bro, I don't want to. Or that later I thought, yo, what if I work in automotives? And just a bunch of what ifs? I dunno. I just say it's wonderful. It's beautiful. Like never change. It sucks to just have one interest. Speaker 2: 07:02 This is what Whitney misses most about teaching. Speaker 4: 07:05 I love how their minds work. Speaker 2: 07:09 Whitney has two minutes to run to the bathroom before her teacher planning meeting starts at 10 30. Speaker 4: 07:15 I check their work and it turns out that they weren't reading. Speaker 2: 07:18 It's a chance to get crucial professional and emotional support. Speaker 4: 07:21 I had two brave souls today that were down to read out loud. It's harder than in school. Speaker 2: 07:28 It's the closest thing Whitney has to the staff room. These days, Speaker 4: 07:33 We're quiet for like a good maybe 30 seconds. That's not nice, Speaker 2: 07:41 Almost new now. And time to take over parenting. So her husband can go back to work. That means lunch and homework and bathroom time for max. Speaker 4: 07:50 It's time to go to the pilot even better. Right now I have 26 text messages, messages on 11 different Slack channels. Talking about some of my students that are absent for class. Speaker 2: 08:10 Most days, most of Whitney's students show up. Some are doing well. Their grades and reading levels have gone up. Then there are the ones who were taking care of siblings, the ones who don't have stable housing, she's lost track of one student altogether. And then there's her own son's academic progress. Speaker 4: 08:29 You got this, you do this every day job I read it was my teacher. Usually no, Speaker 2: 08:39 This is the hardest moment in Whitney's day. The hardest part of distance learning, knowing some students need more than she can give that our own kids made to drop Speaker 4: 08:50 Pretending to stab yourself in the neck with the pencil. Not, not funny at all. Are you guys going to be okay? It's happening now Speaker 2: 09:01 After helping Brendan and Grayson with their homework, Whitney puts Maxwell down for a nap, then pleads with her older boys to keep quiet so she can meet with her school leaders over zoom. She's presenting a proposal for teachers to get more training on how to support students and parents who are dealing with trauma. Speaker 4: 09:19 I've had so many instances just this year. There's like death is always around us. Speaker 2: 09:27 As hard as it's been to adapt to this new way of teaching. It's the world students face outside the classroom that she hasn't been able to troubleshoot her way out. Speaker 4: 09:36 They have a strong relationship with me than with anyone else. So it's difficult for anyone else to provide that support. Speaker 2: 09:44 She struggles to name the solution, more financial resources to point families to better mental health services. She's compelled to take these questions on with her colleagues, even though it's just one more thing. Speaker 4: 09:57 Um, yes, Speaker 2: 10:00 At the end of the day after dinner, after putting the kids to bed, Whitney sits down to send work emails. Speaker 4: 10:06 I had intentions to do work that night and I fell asleep at my computer. Speaker 2: 10:10 One more thing pushed to Sunday night when she's regularly up until 3:00 AM catching up on the week's work for the California report. I'm Vanessa Rancano in Oakland.

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Whitney Dwyer has been teaching at MetWest High School, in Oakland, for a decade. She’s been teaching out of her home, also in Oakland, since March.
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