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N.C. Teacher Expresses Her And Other Teachers' Concerns About Reopening Schools

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

School - parents, students and teachers are wondering, what will it look like this year? Will doors actually open, or will students be back on their computers for classes or a mix of both? In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper says he'll make an announcement this week about what his state's schools should do. Teachers like Tamika Walker Kelly are waiting. She teaches elementary school music in Fayetteville, and she's also the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators. She joins us now.

Thanks for joining us.

TAMIKA WALKER KELLY: Thank you for having me.

MCCAMMON: I'd like to start with what you and other teachers in the state are hoping for. What do you want to see happen this fall?

WALKER KELLY: So many educators around our state - and, I would say, nationwide - are really concerned about re-entering schools in a safe way. Our safety of our educators and our student is the No. 1 priority of many of us. And so we are hoping that - yes, we would like to return to in-person instruction but not in a way that endangers educators or our students alike.

MCCAMMON: So what does that look like in your mind?

WALKER KELLY: You know, for many of them, it is going to virtual learning. Many states have plans, including our own here in North Carolina, where we have the option to do virtual teaching because what we were doing in March after the school buildings were closed was really crisis distance education. And we are hoping that we can do a way to do teaching in August. If we are asked to go back to school - do virtual teaching that way, it allows us to approach school reopening in a measured approach that allows us to make sure that the resources are there for parents to feel comfortable for sending their kids back to school but also comfortable for educators to reenter buildings safely.

MCCAMMON: And what are you hearing from other teachers there? Do you feel like you're getting enough information from your local school leaders?

WALKER KELLY: Teachers are - understandably they have fear. They have anxiety around school reopening because in many conversations around school reopening plans, the educator voice is lost. And I mean not only just classroom educators but our bus drivers and our custodians and our school nutrition workers who are essential and have been essential always but particularly since school buildings closed. And so we've seen a very varied response across the nation. Some school districts have been really good in soliciting educators' input and support around reopening plans; in other places, not so much. And that unevenness from school districts has a lot of educators worried.

MCCAMMON: Is there a tension at all between what teachers want and need and what parents want and need?

WALKER KELLY: There isn't actually a divide between educators and parents. We all want the same thing, which is that we want our kids to be safe. And we want to make sure that they get a high-quality public school education. There is - there are people who are trying to divide us between our parents and our educators, and that's definitely not true because also, what's in that conversation is that many educators are parents. And so we have the same concerns as our parents do.

MCCAMMON: And briefly, in just 30 seconds or so, how are you dealing with all this uncertainty?

WALKER KELLY: It is important to be with our fellow educators in our union family, out in our community, working together. And that's the way that we help keep each other safe.

MCCAMMON: Tamika Walker Kelly, music teacher from Fayetteville, N.C., thanks so much for joining us.

WALKER KELLY: Thank you again.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIOHEAD SONG, "NO SURPRISES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.