photo by Yan Berthemy on Unsplash

Teachers have been vaccine eligible for almost three months. Mayor Bill de Blasio is ending the two-case rule. Things are looking up for our students. 

But we aren’t out of the woods yet.

Epicenter-NYC writer Jade Stepeney spoke with Ryan, a sixth-grade teacher at an independent school for students with language-based learning disabilities in Manhattan, about his vaccine experience. He also shared some wisdom about teaching during the pandemic and why, at the center of it all, students’ and teachers’ well-being is paramount. 

Ryan didn’t think twice about getting the vaccine. Just like our dear restaurant worker, M., he booked his vaccine appointments through TurboVax, although not his first option. He tried going through official channels, but…

“It was difficult to navigate the government systems,” he said.

This is a complaint we’ve heard since day one of vaccine rollout in New York City. 

It took a few tries for an appointment to stick. Ryan’s first two appointments, at the Javits Center and Bellevue Hospital, were canceled. Then, on March 3, teachers and school staff became eligible at pharmacies nationwide. His school said scheduling during school hours wouldn’t be a problem. 

Ryan got his first Moderna shot the week after at a Duane Reade in Manhattan. 

What was the verdict? 

“I was impressed,” he said. “They checked for documentation, I got the shot, and waited for fifteen minutes.” 

Tip: If you’re a teacher or school staff member getting vaccinated anywhere, be sure to bring your school ID and a piece of mail from the school with your current address. 

Staggered appointment times meant no line. Ryan was in and out in less than half an hour. Any side effects?

“I felt fine,” he said. “I went to the gym after [my appointment] and had a workout.” He may have overdone it, though. He was exhausted that evening, with a super sore arm. His second dose is this Wednesday.

Ryan knew what to expect when getting his vaccine. Transitioning to remote learning? A whole different story.

Back when the pandemic hit and New York City schools closed their doors, his independent school operated under what Ryan called “emergency learning.” 

“It was very much a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. His school ignored de Blasio’s calls to shut down last March, then closed its doors abruptly, leaving teachers and students without much guidance. “There was no thought to what learning was going to look like.”

Many of Ryan’s students have language processing disorders, like dyslexia. They were expected to log in to Zoom, turn their cameras on and sit in front of a screen for six hours. 

“[It] just didn’t seem developmentally appropriate or sustainable,” he said. “But nonetheless, that’s what the edict [from administration] was.” 

Ryan decided to leave following the end of the 2019-2020 school year. His new school has been open since early January. Families were given the option to stay online or choose hybrid learning.

“They’ve been a lot more thoughtful in the way that they’ve tried to balance teachers’ concerns with families’ desires to have their kids in person,” he said. 

There’re also weekly testing pools. Everyone takes an at-home Covid-19 test, and students and staff who interact regularly are placed in pools. If someone in the pool tests positive, everyone is notified, encouraged to get tested and quarantine. It’s a luxury many teachers and students don’t have. 

“I think I am in a really privileged position because I teach at an independent school,” Ryan said. “[It’s] well-funded and has the means and resources to ensure that its students and staff are safe.”

As for his friends who teach in public schools, they have less to gush about. 

“There are some teachers going back to buildings that don’t have proper ventilation,” he said. A $4.2 billion deal to fund New York City schools and incoming federal aid could change that. 

We asked Ryan for his take on the reopening debate. Here’s what he told us:

“There’s an equity piece in education I feel is a big component of what’s missing in a lot of the conversations that are being had. Many families are essential workers. They don’t have childcare. They can’t leave their kids home alone. That’s not a school or education issue, it’s a societal issue.” 

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