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Real talk: Richmond teachers reveal struggles, triumphs of virtual education

Posted at 4:38 PM, Mar 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-04 18:39:09-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- For the last seven months, most Richmond Public School educators have taught virtually during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In September, several first-year Carver Elementary School teachers began their careers with Richmond Public Schools without stepping into the classroom on West Leigh Street.

Carver Elementary Principal Dr. Tiawanna Giles invited CBS 6 to listen in on a candid conversation about virtual education during their Community Circle meeting Thursday morning.

“We felt like we were building the plane as we were flying it,” Dr. Giles explained. “Starting out we didn’t know what to expect.”

Several educators admitted that navigating the virtual world and systems has been challenging for both teachers and students.

“I thought I was prepared but then school started, and I realized I wasn’t as prepared as I thought,” Carver teacher Cynthia Mankus said. “It’s made me appreciate classroom environments because in the classroom environment I can control the environment.”

First-year exceptional education teacher Kelly Crowder spoke about her students overcoming difficulties with the technology since the Fall.

“Some of my students couldn’t navigate the system and they couldn’t navigate the Google classroom. However, now those same students have adapted, and they’ve grown,” Crowder stated. “Learning is happening. It may be a struggle in the beginning. However, school is open. It’s virtual, but learning is happening.”

Many Carver Elementary families live in underserved neighborhoods. Some have felt the impacts of the pandemic worse than others.

Carver educator Cornelius Smith said virtual learning has forced him to get creative to continue to engage his students and their families.

Some Richmond teachers begin their school day at 7 a.m. and don’t log off until 10 p.m conducting Zoom meetings, planning lessons, and reviewing curriculum during the hours in between.

The job of a teacher doesn’t stop at the computer screen either.

“They have home visits and daily phone calls which we know happen on a regular basis during school, but it’s heightened during the pandemic and virtual learning,” Assistant Principal Theron Sampson said.

The teachers described themselves as a family despite being forced to work in a virtual environment.

They wouldn’t allow the pressures of the pandemic to give up their duties as an educator, they said.

Teaching online this year has led them to an appreciation of working inside a classroom and for the resiliency of their students.

Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras and the Richmond School Board are working to determine how and when students, staff, and teachers should return to the classroom.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has recently encouraged school districts to offer an in-person learning option.

The City of Richmond is the only school system that decided to stay virtual throughout the 2020-21 school year.

Smith spoke about his mixed emotions when asked if he felt comfortable returning to the classroom.

“I’m willing because I’m called to be an educator,” he said. “As long as the school district and state take precautions, make it safe and everyone is responsible.”

Kindergarten teacher Deidre Jackson was enthusiastic at the chance of teaching inside the building.

“I feel like those children need more hands-on and one-on-one attention. So, I’ll be the first one on the bus to get back in there,” she stated.

Carver educator Sharika Joynes said she was hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine at first. Now, she applauded the decision to prioritize teachers to receive their shot in the arm.

“The more we spent in this virtual world, the more I accepted that we need to be back in school,” Joynes explained. “With provisions in place and schools being up to par and vaccines on deck I think we would be happy to return to the building.”