After saying goodbye to students for the weekend on March 13, fully expecting that come Monday, they’d be back, Cathy Phillips Beshel and other teachers at Peasley Middle School in Gloucester County were called into an emergency faculty meeting.
Instead Gov. Ralph Northam had ordered schools be closed for two weeks in an effort to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, a virus sweeping across the world. Ten days later, the chief executive announced that schools would be closed for the rest of the academic year.
Just like that, Cathy Phillips Beshel’s 42 years of teaching had come to an end. Sure, she’s video conferencing with students - trying to bring them a message of hope and some sort of normalcy - but no longer will she teach students inside a physical classroom, a place where students for years have told her that they’re safe and loved.
“I had no idea when I said goodbye to them,” Beshel said. “There was no closure.”
The state-ordered school closures -- which made Virginia at the time only the second state to do so (19 states have now mandated or recommended school building closures for the rest of the academic year, according to Education Week) -- have upended most areas of everyday life, including day-to-day schooling. But for retiring teachers like Beshel, what is normally an occasion that celebrates the end of a career has left a void. And for incoming teachers, the start of their career is filled with uncertainty about education ever returning back to normal.
Eight days after Northam’s announcement that schools would remain shuttered, which she watched from inside her house a mile from school, Beshel returned to the middle school she’s called 江西11选5走势图 for the past 20 years. It drew her away from Newport News, where she’d spent 20 years and two others at a private school before that.
While she admits that you have to “be a little bit crazy to teach middle school,” she found her niche as a sixth grade English Language Arts teacher. She’d read to her students everyday - “Ghost” by Jason Reynolds and “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” by Kate DiCamillo were two of her favorites - and given them a hug when they needed it.
When she walked into the normally loud and boisterous classroom, though, on April 1, it was quiet. The desks were still in place; the posters and signs still on the walls; notes from the March 13 lessons still on the board.
“The silence was deafening,” Beshel said.
She tried packing her things, but 42 years of teaching doesn’t pack easy and she went to talk to the principal, where she started crying - something she’s done every day since the closure announcement.
“You come back to all that because you think you’re going to come back - it’s just been really hard,” she said.
Beshel’s returned to the middle school several times over the past three weeks to pack, but has remained at 江西11选5走势图 like Northam has ordered. Her trip to Cancun for her last spring break was also axed.
She’s had classes via Zoom, but instead of preparing for the Standards of Learning tests like they normally do this time of year, Beshel has tried to virtually instill the sense of community she fostered in her classroom.
“We’re all in this together,” she said. “We’re all a little bit scared. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Nobody’s ever been through anything like this before.”
The school year technically ends in two months, so Beshel, 64, will continue connecting with her students, but it’s not what she envisioned when deciding to retire about three years ago. She wanted her last day to have a classroom filled with students the way it had been for 42 years.
Instead, she’ll end her career teaching students on the other side of a screen.
“I don’t think anybody wanted to go out like this,” Beshel said.
While Beshel and teachers in Gloucester learned about the school closures together, 60 miles away in Richmond, Alyssa Settles found out the same with teachers at William Fox Elementary School.
Settles was only a week into the second of her two eight-week student teaching placements, excited to be in a fourth grade classroom with lead teacher David Dejnozka. Plans to learn the trade in the classroom change, with Settles instead teaming up with Dejnozka to offer online learning.
The two hold a weekly book club with students via Zoom. A blog provides regular updates on what’s going on, including with the class chickens (six have hatched successfully). Settles is teaching students about probability.
She’s still getting teaching experience despite the Fan District school building being closed, but questions remain unanswered about her entry into the full-time teaching profession.
Teacher preparation programs across the state have told students that they can still graduate, but the certification of the student teaching requirements are still pending. That, along with a job market likely to be impacted by the economic fallout of the pandemic, has led to reservation among many incoming teachers during what is normally a jubilant time of getting to enter the profession.
“It’s a lot of uncertainty of what the next few months will bring,” Settles said.
The Virginia Department of Education said that it’s communicated with administrators of educator preparation programs about the potential impacts of the closures on student teachers’ ability to meet the Board of Education’s 10-week student teaching requirement. Requests to alter the requirement will be reviewed “on a case-by-case basis,” according to the agency.
Virginia, like states across the country江西11选5走势图, is in the midst of a teacher shortage brought on by low pay and poor working conditions, advocates say. State officials have tried to address the problem, including launching 53 new teacher preparation programs and 25 new degrees last year that let people become teachers after getting an education degree in four years.
Without a fresh batch of teachers - the same ones who’ve spent part of the current school year as student teachers - entering the workforce, that shortage could continue to grow.
School district’s budgets could also feel the effects of the pandemic-caused economic turmoil. Northam’s administration has suspended all new spending in the two-year budget lawmakers approved last month - a financial plan that was supposed to help the state get closer to its pre-Great Recession education funding levels. A new budget will be taken up during the April 22 veto session.
Job fairs hosted by school districts that Settles and other new teachers rely on to put a face to an application have also been canceled.
Even with the uncertainty of the future, something that connects outgoing and incoming teachers is missing students who they’d grown close to inside physical classrooms.
“I’m never going to see them again,” said Dayna Thomas, a James Madison University student whose practicum with a kindergarten class in Staunton was cut short by the closures.