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Hindsight: N.H. Teacher Reflects on 'Frustrating' Year

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As we approach the end of a tumultuous year, NHPR is checking in with some of the people we spoke with early on in the pandemic, to see how things have changed. It’s part of a series we’re calling "Hindsight.”Earlier this year, we reported on Trevor Duval, a high school civics teacher at Hollis Brookline High School, and how he was worried he'd bring the coronavirus home to his wife, who has kidney disease and is fighting cancer. NHPR's Peter Biello spoke to him again recently about how his year has gone.

Trevor, when you spoke to NHPR earlier this year, you were concerned about bringing COVID-19 home to your wife who has kidney disease and cancer. Give us an update, if you could. How are you and your wife doing now?

Fortunately, neither of us has gotten sick with COVID, which is a plus, obviously. She was hospitalized in early October. She developed a pulmonary embolism, so we've now added lung issues to her list of pre-existing conditions that could be impacted by COVID. But I'll say probably just before she was hospitalized, she got to the point where she just got tired of living in the COVID coma and being afraid of going outside. She went to the grocery store one day. And she's good about that. Off-peak hours, things like that. And it was indicative of how long she's been out because she was like, 'Why are there arrows on the floor in the grocery store?' The world had changed a lot since March.

Last time we spoke, you spelled out your options with respect to work. You could stay in school and bear the risk, go on disability, which would really hurt you as a one-income family, or you could resign. Tell us what you ended up doing?

I went back to the classroom, working full time. At my school, families had the option of being remote or in-person. In my classrooms, I averaged only two or three kids at the beginning of the year who opted to be remote, and as the year progressed, I had one who came back into the class because he learned remote learning was really hard. But over the last several weeks, more and more kids were going remote. I was given certain options. My district was able to procure a certain amount of plexiglass, so I have plexiglass around my desk, and I really had to change my teaching techniques. I'm a pacer, I'm a walker. I never sit still when I teach. I'm always walking around observing.

So you had to learn how to sit still?

Oh god, yeah. And now I have to teach in front of the room within a three-foot box. That was just one of those little things that in COVID is about the little things that are different, and these things added up to more stresses. 

Do you feel like the state or your local district responded appropriately to the needs of teachers like you?

Just so you know, I'm actually a civics and AP government teacher, and one of the things I'm always telling my students is to look at the other side of the equation. You think A, so what does B say? I really see both sides of the equation on this. I would have loved to have had the option of being fully remote early in the school year, but there's only so many subs, only so much funding available for things. I had plenty of colleagues who were in high risk groups and they really needed to be home for their own personal safety, not just the safety of their families. So obviously they have to be the top priority. 

I do appreciate what Governor Sununu was doing when he said, look, the needs of Manchester are not the same as the needs of little towns like Unity, New Hampshire, so to have the one-size-fits-all approach isn't necessarily the best. But when you downshift the responsibilities to the state levels, you sometimes have to wonder what is the motivation behind people at the local level, whether it's local elected leaders, school board, principles. What is their true motivation? Is it to get kids into the classroom so they can have a normal, successful year? Is it so kids can be in schools so parents can be working? I don't know. And the decisions that the administration and the school board and everyone had to make...that's a tough call.

With the options that you faced, personally and professionally, I imagine even some dedicated teachers, really dedicated teachers might say, you know what, enough is enough. I need to find a new line of work. Is that something that crossed your mind?

[Sigh] Yeah, I think it's safe to say it has crossed my mind. I love my profession. I love what I do. I love where I work. I've got great staff and students and parents and it's's a joy to be able to do what I do. But I also have to be a pragmatist. Do I need to think of other options? I don't see myself doing it, but sometimes you gotta keep options open. I know there are teachers who I have seen in tears who have broken down this year, and they don't know how they're going to finish the year. Websites crashing, Zooms freezing, the internet is overloaded. It's just a very frustrating time for a lot of people.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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