Haverhill Pandemic: ‘If You’re Not Crying in the Parking Lot Before School, Are You Really a Teacher?’

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The effects of the pandemic are being felt not only in homes, businesses and medical settings, but also in classrooms.

Haverhill Education Association President Tim Briggs told the School Committee last week students are having difficulty adapting to the structure of in-person learning and are expressing that by acting out in unacceptable ways.

“First of all, this is real. This is not drama. There are teachers that are at their wits end that are talking to their spouses about it may be time to go. I’ve come before this board three times this fall trying to be very diplomatic in where we are as human beings, as teachers right now. I got a text on Tuesday morning from a teacher at the high school that asked ‘If you’re not crying in the parking lot before school, are you really a teacher?’” He said.

Briggs said many teachers say they do not believe they are being heard and equate their working conditions to being in an abusive relationship. He gave the Committee examples of some of the problems they are face.

“There are ESPs that cover six classes in the cafeteria at one time because there are no subs. There are teachers at the high school that are being told to f-off, who do you think you are? There are teachers at the high school filling out incident reports that don’t hear back for weeks. This has been a very traumatic year,” he explained.

Briggs said he understands pupils have been through much trauma, but he is hopeful something can be done for students as well as the teachers.

School Superintendent Margaret Marotta agreed with Briggs’ assessment, saying the administration is trying to solve the issue.

“This is clearly an issue in Haverhill and across Massachusetts and, I venture to say, across the world right now, where kids have just been out of school and they’re out of sorts and they’re having a real hard time readjusting to school and we are trying in every way to support them and to support our teachers,” she said.

Marotta said compounding the problem is difficulty in finding teachers looking for work right now.

Haverhill Supervisor of School Counseling Jami Dion also addressed the Committee, noting everyone has been impacted by the pandemic and are carrying a level of irritability as a result. She said in the case of some students, this manifests itself as challenging behavior.

“We are looking at students that are different than they were before. We, essentially, are assisting students in relearning the structure and the norms of everyday school, and it is hard work and it is not something that we can do overnight,” she said.

Dion said the remedy is not something schools can do alone. She said they need support from families and even communities. To that end, she said they are providing tools for families to use and they have put additional staff in place to offer direct care to the students. She added they are also partnering with community agencies to help those students. Dion said the results are small and incremental but are moving in the right direction.

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