Teaching in a Pandemic: Preparing for the final leg of a career as if it were a football tryout

I'm all in. In a few days, I will enter the classroom for my 35th year and my final full academic year before I am eligible to retire in January of 2022. I did not expect to encounter a pandemic
By: | August 31, 2020
Photo by Nathan Shively via Unsplash.

Jeff Remington is a public school science and STEM teacher in Pennsylvania.

I’m all in. In a few days, I will enter the classroom for my 35th year and my final full academic year before I am eligible to retire in January of 2022. I did not expect to encounter a pandemic.

Like many teachers, I have anxiety about in-person teaching during the pandemic but I’m excited to use this teachable moment of COVID-19 to guide my students on a journey to change our challenged world. As an older teacher in a number of increased-risk groups for COVID-19, I am treating this as if I am training for an NFL Combine. I will need to be in the best physical shape possible to increase my odds for a better outcome should I contract the virus. Since mid-June, I have lost over 20 lbs. I have stepped up cardio and weight training as well and all but eliminated processed foods from my diet. I did not do this to look better for a beach visit. No beach visits were in my travel plans during the pandemic. I’ve been cocooned since mid-March when COVID-19 hit. I’ve cocooned out of love, love for others. I believe that the small sacrifices of wearing masks, staying at home as much as possible and social distancing all help the chances of others surviving this pandemic. It puts me in a better position to care for loved ones in my family who are at higher risk for COVID-19. Cocooning will also put me in the best possible position to help serve my students and their families by reducing the risk that I would be the one giving them this virus when we return to the classroom

As a public servant, I carry out the tough decisions that leaders above me have to make. Their decisions put me and other essential workers in positions of increased risk of contracting COVID-19. I know they wrestle with those decisions on sleepless nights and I have empathy for them. We are all in a difficult spot where we need to balance health concerns which can be life-threatening and economic concerns that can also be life-threatening in situations.

I find inspiration from the selfless courage of frontline workers like my daughter who is a nurse and my son who is a law enforcement officer. Both serve urban areas where equity and poverty issues compound COVID-19 and increase everyone’s risk. My extended family is a family of service workers as well. Like so many others on the front lines, we do our part and we do it with love. We risk not only our health serving the public, but we risk the health of our closest loved ones when we come home from work.

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Remington has focused on physical fitness in preparation for a return to school.

How can I summarize this bizarre final chapter in my 35-year career? Being cocooned has given me pause to reflect on my career. That has been a gift. It’s been a career that has been blessed with opportunities to use my teacher voice to inform policy and practice in regard to STEM, workforce development, poverty, equity, sustainability, and education at the state, national, and international levels.

I can summarize my career in the two words which a pastor friend of mine shared through a version of the Sermon on the Mount. The two words are Love & Lead. We must first Love all we encounter through empathy, compassion, relationship building, and genuine caring. Only then do we have the capacity and grace to truly Lead by example. Gandhi lived those two words. Throughout my career, I have had two quotes from Gandhi that have helped focus me on Loving and Leading. “Be the change you wish to see in the world” and “Live simply so others may simply live”. They are simple quotes that can truly change the world for the better.

I have been so grateful for the opportunity to serve my community. Although this last leg of my teaching career is a bit awkward with the pandemic, I truly hope my community shows appreciation for me and so many other essential frontline workers through two words. Love & Lead. Show Love for us all by social distancing, wearing masks, staying home as much as possible, and avoid going to high-risk social gathering places. By doing this, we will show respect for all people, make our schools safer and we will give our economy the chance it needs to get back on its feet. Let’s Lead our children to a better life and a better future, a future filled with reimagined education, endless opportunity, and invigorating hope. Let’s lead by our example.

Jeff Remington is a public school science & STEM teacher in the Palmyra School District in Pennsylvania. With over 35 years of experience, he has enthusiastically championed the power of STEM and mentorship as a means to improving people’s lives. In addition, he has taught at the graduate and undergraduate level for over 20 years at Lebanon Valley College.