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Teachers Are Concerned About Returning Back To Classroom

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Two-thirds of U.S. educators would prefer to teach remotely this fall, according to a new poll conducted by NPR and Ipsos. The poll also found about 16% of teachers say they won't return if their campus reopens. In Texas, many teachers are on edge, and some say they may quit, as Houston Public Media's Laura Isensee reports.

LAURA ISENSEE, BYLINE: For 40 years, Robin Stauffer has taught high school English, most recently in Katy, a suburb west of Houston. She says working with kids has kept her young and lighthearted. But since the pandemic hit, a question nagged at her - was it time to retire?

ROBIN STAUFFER: I was very upset and sad. I was torn. I went back and forth.

ISENSEE: On the one hand, she wasn't ready. She's still passionate about why she joined the profession in the first place.

STAUFFER: To be the type of teacher that I wish I would have had when I was in public school, to kind of right the wrongs that I experienced.

ISENSEE: On the other hand, since her district cut custodial staff a few years ago, it was often up to teachers to clean their own rooms.

STAUFFER: They don't supply hand sanitizer. They don't supply wipes.

ISENSEE: A bill working its way through Congress could help school districts like Stauffer's as they head back to school. But Stauffer has grown anxious seeing a back-to-normal attitude in Texas. She's 66 years old and has diabetes, which means she's more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

STAUFFER: I just don't trust the school district to safeguard my health during this pandemic.

ISENSEE: Like Stauffer, many U.S. teachers are feeling a lot of uncertainty. According to the poll by NPR and Ipsos, over 80% of instructors are concerned their school will change their coronavirus plans after the year starts.

NOEL CANDELARIA: There's obviously a lot of fear, mostly because there are so many unanswered questions.

ISENSEE: Noel Candelaria is with the Texas State Teachers Association. He says staff with underlying health conditions are also concerned. Take his wife, Patty. She's a dyslexia therapist and has had three surgeries to fix a congenital heart defect.

CANDELARIA: There are educators like my wife who, if the districts do not provide an alternative method for them to be able to still do their job from home without exposing themselves, that are considering a medical leave.

ISENSEE: The Trump administration has pressured states to quickly return to in-person learning. In Texas, where infection rates have soared this summer, state education leaders will allow up to eight weeks of remote instruction but continue to push schools to reopen classrooms.

KRISTIN MCCLINTOCK: It was really shocking because it just seems like nobody cares what's going to happen in the schools.

ISENSEE: That's Kristin McClintock. She teaches special education at a large Houston high school. For weeks, McClintock and her husband discussed her quitting and staying home with their young children.

MCCLINTOCK: It would cut our finances in half. We would have to lean on support, probably from family.

ISENSEE: Ultimately, she decided to go back. Veteran educator Robin Stauffer also made up her mind. She turned in her resignation.

STAUFFER: All my life I've been a teacher. That is who I am. But I don't feel like I had another choice.

ISENSEE: She said goodbye to students over Zoom and didn't have any real celebration...

(SOUNDBITE OF CARS HONKING)

ISENSEE: ...Until some of her colleagues surprised her with a car parade - a very COVID way to mark the end of a 40-year career.

For NPR, I'm Laura Isensee in Houston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.