Taking a shot (or two) at in-person instruction

As vaccine distribution begins to tip into Phase B, teachers await a return to classrooms

In a world where it’s more common to see a mask than the interior of a classroom, the news that teachers will soon be able to receive shots of the COVID-19 vaccine came as a relief to many.

As of March 1, 10% of all vaccine doses in California will be reserved for teachers, school staff, and childcare workers. Over 1.3 million of California’s 39.51 million residents fall into this category.  

According to COVID19.CA.gov, California’s first phase of the vaccine distribution plan is made up of three sub-phases: 1A, 1B and 1C, which divide residents into different categories based on priority level. Those eligible in Phase 1A include healthcare workers and long-term care residents. Phase 1B has multiple tiers: the first (meaning those of highest priority) are those 65-years-old and above and people in the food/agriculture, emergency services and education/childcare fields. 

On Wednesday, Jan. 13, Governor Gavin Newsom extended the eligibility requirements for the vaccine to teachers and those of 65 years of age and older in areas where there were no healthcare workers that still needed to receive it, according to AARP. On Friday, Jan. 15, Newsom declared that 1.188 million residents have been vaccinated since the beginning of the vaccine’s distribution, according to KRON4 News. In total, the state has administered over 7.4 million doses of vaccine so far. 

After the rest of the first tier come those of lower priority in Phase 1B, which include those who work in agriculture and food services, educational and childcare services and emergency services, as well as those 65 years of age and older.  

According to EdWeek, teachers in most states across the country are able to receive the vaccine. States which currently are not vaccinating educators include Washington, Texas, Florida, Georgia and New Jersey. In West Virginia, teachers over 50 are eligible, and in Pennsylvania, teachers in certain areas can receive the vaccine. 

Meanwhile, there has been an ongoing debate regarding when teachers should return to in-person learning. While both educators and students hope to return to the classrooms, the question has been raised time and time again of whether or not it is safe to do so. As of now, both Los Angeles County and Ventura County are in the purple  tier (the highest tier, meaning “widespread”). In Ventura County, there are 16 new cases per every 100K people each day. In Los Angeles County, there are 13 new cases per day per 100K people, according to Mayo Clinic.

Digital Electronics, CP/AP Physics and Mechatronics teacher Austin Lippincott has spent his very first year teaching via distance learning. In his experience, beginning his teaching experience virtually “helps and hurts.” 

“It helps me because it forces me to create and organize material to store it on my Google Drive. I can’t say I would be as digitally organized if it were not for the quarantine,” Lippincott wrote to the Talon. “It also helps because I do not need to focus as much on classroom management, and am able to put my effort into the content.”

He also feels that he would have gotten sick about six times by now if classes were held in person, since his immune system is bad at fighting off colds and the flu. Despite this, he also feels that he’s missed out on a couple of major parts of the school year: the fun and enjoyment of being a part of the OPHS culture, and the ability to get to know students better. 

“Although I do not need to worry as much about classroom management, I am missing out on a lot of that learning that I will have to catch up on when school is back in person,” Lippincott wrote. 

Regardless, Lippincott finds himself looking forward to the return to in-person teaching. He believes that this experience has allowed both students and teachers to gain a variety of new perspectives, and that it will ultimately make everyone stronger and more appreciative of what is often “taken for granted.”

World History, CP/AP Economics, Geopolitics and Psychology teacher D.J. Cook explains the distance learning situation as “twice the work for the teachers and half the work for the students,” due to the difficulty of coordinating and creating lessons that can be used virtually while still holding the same amount of efficacy. In order to create video lectures to be posted online for students, Cook worked over 65 hours per week during the first semester of the school year, though he feels that the work is now beginning to pay off. 

“I always made a promise to myself when I entered the profession and it was, ‘If you can’t make school engaging for students, they will never know the importance of the subject. The day you get too lazy or unmotivated to accomplish this goal on a daily basis is the day you need to look for another job,’” Cook wrote to the Talon. 

Despite having no social media accounts aside from the Twitter he uses for school-related reasons, Cook has worked to create videos that draw influence from sites such as TikTok, YouTube and Instagram. He feels slightly disconnected from that world, because of both his age and his lack of social media presence, but approached the situation with the goal of comedic and informative content in mind — even if that meant “making [himself] the butt of most of the jokes.”

While Cook has worked to make content that students can learn from and enjoy, he does miss the 95-minutes of time he used to get with students in the days before distance learning. To him, it is the “single best part of the job.” He looks forward to returning to in-person instruction, and will receive the vaccine as soon as he is eligible for it (he hopes for mid-February) in order to return to the classroom. 

“I always tell people, ‘I teach for free. The district pays me for all the other stuff (grading, preparation, meetings, difficult parents, etc.),’” Cook wrote. 

If school was to never return to in-person instruction and instead permanently stay virtual, Cook feels that he would simply look for another profession. He would have no interest, he explained. As of now, though, Cook is excited to return to what he misses most. 

“I’m looking forward to getting back into the classroom, handing out Cook Bucks, high-fiving students, attending pep-rallies, graduations, Senior trips … you know … school,” Cook wrote. 

Graphic by Bailey Andera