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‘What keeps you up at night?’ Here are six teacher’s responses — add your own.

Last Thursday, April 30, six North Carolina teachers joined an hour-long “Collaborative Conversations” virtual panel hosted by EdNC, where they discussed the hard and complex issues surrounding education during COVID-19: broadband access, equity in remote learning, screen time, the role of in-person connection, and more.

The panel was co-moderated by Ben Owens and Dominique Stone who posed questions aimed at fostering dialogue.

We chose not to release the panel recording because we wanted our teacher leaders to feel free to have messy, hard conversations knowing their answers wouldn’t be published online.

More than 70 viewers watched in real time, many who let us know that the conversation was real, refreshing, and raw. I thank our brave panelists for this and our moderators for crafting intentional questions.

The last question of the discussion truly got to the heart of what teachers around our state are facing every day: Feelings of helplessness, worry, fear. Wanting to do more for their students at home, but not being able to connect in person, building on those relationships that grow over the course of a year, and the concern that comes with not being able to reach students with the limited device and broadband access.

‘What keeps you up at night?’

Each panelists answered the question: “What keeps you up at night, and what can we do about it?” We’ve released their answers with their permission.

See each panelist’s answers in the video below, and standout quotes from their answers underneath.

James O’Neal, Jr. — Eighth grade math teacher and department chair at Piedmont IB Middle School

“One of the main things that keeps me up is: ‘Who am I allowing to go on next to high school?’ Since I teach eighth grade, I won’t see my kids again. It gets to me from time to time, when I think about it. And so I wanted to make sure what child am I — and I say this all the time, ‘I’m raising you.’ I joke with my kids all the time, ‘I didn’t raise you like this, you know.’ So we’re all in the classroom, raising our kids to be amazing. And who am I raising to go to the next level? And I want to make sure that I am doing all that I can to make sure that they are successful.

I teach at a school where they are predominately my students are black and brown, and there are already inequities that are already against students of color. … I have a purpose in my heart that I … will do everything I can to make sure that the systemic racism, the biases that they have to already face, that I can pour into them and support them as much as possible. And so it keeps me up, it keeps me going.

I made a decision, if they had closed down the school whatever … we still have to learn math. So anybody that’s willing to come, you know, I’m still going to teach, because I know … where you’re going, and I know what you need. And I want to make sure that I can give you the best that I can give you.”

Kevin Poirier — Multi-classroom leader at West Charlotte High School

“You know, I’ve never met a student in my entire eight years in West Charlotte High School that didn’t care about their education. Even the students who are repeatedly suspended, in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, and I keep coming back to this thought, which is since March 13, none of those same students that we know always are suspended has been suspended. And the world has gone on, learning has gone on. Theoretically, they’re logging on, doing some learning as well.

And, suspension data across all of North Carolina unless it’s, you know, a parent doing the suspending, is zero.

And I just want us to remember that when we go into the fall, and we think about: How do we transform education? How do we be innovative? How do we make sure that even the student who … is consistently not meeting behavioral expectations — how do we make sure that we meet their needs and get them to where they want to be? Because they want to be somewhere, and want to be something. And we clearly can do it because we haven’t been suspending kids. So that really keeps me up at night and I hope we can learn from this.”

Mariah Morris — Second grade teacher at West Pine Elementary School and 2019 Burroughs Wellcome Fund North Carolina Teacher of the Year

“Something that keeps me up at night is fearing that this time of remote learning will normalize screen time with our students, and give credence and power to philosophies that are minimizing the role of the teacher in our schools. And I think that this time is showing us anything but that.

… This time actually is showing us how vital and important that human-to-human connection is. And I just I fear the agenda that says that, ‘Look, our students were able to connect, a computer can teach them with 50 kids in your class.’ And so I think that is something that I personally fear and am really looking at to make sure that we are not allowing to creep into our narrative.”

Doug Price — Sixth grade Core Connections teacher at Voyager Academy in Durham and 2019 North Carolina Charter School Teacher of the Year

“Blended learning, remote learning does not replace the teacher. Ever. Period. End of story.

And it is the thing that keeps me up at night because part of the thing — I’m really going to try not to cry when I answer this question but I keep thinking about it and I keep getting teary eyed.

The thing that keeps me up at night is the fact that springtime is the sweetest time if you are a teacher because it is the time that you’ve gotten past the first semester, first two quarters and whatnot, which is when you spend time really getting to know who your students are getting to build relationships, and you’re figuring out nuances and quirks about each other, they about you and you about them. And springtime is the sweetest time because that is when those relationships really start to take off and soar. Like really, really, truly, like go so deep and grow in such exponential ways. And I don’t get to do that this year. Because the screen doesn’t replace that. The screen doesn’t allow me the opportunity to do that. And it doesn’t have the capacity to be able to do that.

… I agree with Mariah. We cannot let that narrative be what is driving forward any of the policy discussions, conversations, legislative drafts or whatever. It has got to be that teachers in schools are fully funded in the way that is going to enable the relationships to be central to the way that students are going to be able to learn.”

Lynn Freeman — Fourth grade teacher at Pleasant Garden Elementary School in McDowell County

“What keeps me up at night is I don’t know how to close out this year. … It’s kind of been left hanging with my students. This is the sweetest time of the year. And I just I keep asking myself: Did I do enough through the year for them, did they learn enough to get them on to the next year, and am I building or keeping those relationships alive now with this distance learning? It’s tough. And so all those are questions that I have that keep me up at night.”

Jaylyn Perry — English teacher at North Edgecombe High and Teach for America corps member

“I’ve been thinking a lot about a quote from Plato: ‘Necessity is the mother of invention.’ And I think that this time kind of calls us to think about what is it that students need the most? And how do we invent and innovate around that?

I think further, we can think about how inequity kind of births innovation as well. And so I think that what keeps me up at night, and what I hope everyone is keeping in mind as we’re kind of pushing forward in our work, … is how can we put human need, and how do we put the person and humanity first in everything that we’re doing? And how do we actually create around that?”

You tell us: What keeps you up at night?

What keeps you up at night? We want to hear from you. You don’t have to be a teacher (but we’d love to hear from you if you are!). No matter your role, this is an important question as North Carolina schools continue remote learning. Respond below, and we may use your answer in future articles.

Mary Willson

Mary Willson is the director of engagement at EducationNC.