‘Picking up Where We Left Off’: Teachers Return to Classrooms

On Monday, many teachers in the Everett Public Schools (EPS) returned to the classroom for the first time in more than a year – making it a milestone and historic occasion as the first step in the re-opening plan that brings young students back to class in early April.

While some teachers have taken the opportunity to teach from school buildings, and others have staffed e-Learning Centers, a vast majority of teachers hadn’t been in their classrooms since March 12, 2020 – the day EPS suddenly announced the closure of schools for two weeks and maybe longer.

As it turns out, it was longer – coming out to more than a year of closed schools.

For Everett High School teacher Dana Oppedisano, he had not really been back in his classroom or to the school in an entire year. So, to mark the occasion, he made a video of his first return trip and his first entrance into his classroom. He took off before dark, stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts as he used to do, and pulled up to EHS and walked in. In his classroom, he found air purifiers, sanitizing stations, social distancing queues and a number of new COVID-19 additions.

But he also found things eerily in the same place – like the work from students in 2020 still up on his bulletin board. Those same students are now one grade ahead, and nearly ready to move on to a second grade ahead of where they were when they sat in his class on March 12, 2020.

Below is a Q&A done with Oppedisano about how he felt on his return and how he decided to make his video.

•How long has it been since you were back? 

Our last full day in the building was March 12, 2020, so it’s been a year since I spent an entire workday inside EHS. I have had to travel to the school briefly – to collect materials, check in quickly, grab paperwork – but Monday was definitely the first time it felt like ‘being back.’ Yes, this was the first time I’ve commuted, at that hour, and with the intention of being in Everett for the start of the day, since last March. 

•How did it feel to walk into the school and classroom for the first time?

It really did feel like there was some semblance of normal for the first time in a year. There are a lot of things that aren’t quite ‘back to school’ yet, but coming into EHS, seeing my colleagues and finally trying to take our first steps back into the world after COVID, it was exciting. So much time has passed since we’ve all been in the buildings together, and Monday felt like we hadn’t missed a step. Everybody was right back where they wanted to be.

•What did you think as you arrived

It was nice to walk into a classroom that was, for the most part, exactly as I left it. In a weird way, working until last March, and now returning to finish this year feels a little like completing an academic year – albeit with a weird one-year break in between. Seeing my students’ work, even though they’ve moved on to the next grade, and my decorations made it feel like coming back home. If it was empty or significantly changed it might have felt like starting over – where this felt more like picking back up where we left off.

•Were you scared at all?

No, not at all. The administration and our union came together to make the safest and smartest decision for teachers. Where going back a month, or even a few weeks ago might have meant many teachers returning without being vaccinated, we are finally trending in the right direction and most teachers have received at least the first shot. That, coupled with the emphasis on social distancing, the cleaning and air purifying, and just the overall caution and awareness that I’ve seen everyone exhibit, has made it very comfortable for us. Without students in the building yet, it’s up to teachers to really be aware of the environment and exercise common sense, and everyone has done exactly that.

•What made you decide to make a video about your return to work?

My wife and I talked with our three boys the night before about how daddy had to go back to school on Monday. They were all asleep when I left the house, so I started just sort of taking these short videos to send her showing that I got out of the house okay and that I made it safely. I thought it would be sort of amusing for her to see that I was back to normal – even stopping for coffee on the way. When I got to the building I realized that coming back was actually a pretty significant moment. If nothing else, I’d have my own memories of returning for the first time to look back on someday. When I looked at them all at the end of the day, I thought it just made sense to cut them together and add some music, and I tweeted it in the hopes that people felt equally excited about taking a step forward. A few people have called it my ‘hype video,’ and yeah, if it made some other teachers as excited as I was to go back into the building, or made my students look that much more forward to the day they come back, then it was definitely worth the few minutes it took to make it.

•Any last thoughts about the first day back in the school building? 

I thought Monday went really well. We’re not close to normal yet, but I think we all know this is going to be a process. In a year where each of us has experienced frustration, anxiety, maybe had COVID personally or cared for someone who has, it was so rewarding to have a good day again. The sun was shining, the building was alive for the first time in a year, and I saw a lot of faces, with masks on, that made me forget for a moment about the past year. Hopefully our students will have that same feeling when they return to the buildings.

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