Jul 5, 2022 - COVID

A veteran DCPS teacher recaps the school year

DCPS teacher Kendall Maloney. Photo: Kevin Little

DCPS last week finished its first in-person pandemic school year after more than a year of virtual learning.

We spoke with a DCPS teacher about navigating this first year back in person.

Here's what she told us:

On the first day, 10-year DCPS veteran teacher Kendall Maloney nervously welcomed her pre-K3 students who, equally nervous, entered her Bunker Hill Elementary classroom in Northeast with masks. 

  • Maloney initially felt the school district had gone back to in-person learning too soon and was terrified to bring COVID home to her then-one-year-old daughter.
  • Her students, who at three years old had spent almost all of their lives at home amid the pandemic, weren’t used to being around strangers. Plus, COVID restrictions meant their parents couldn't walk them to the classroom.  

The big picture: The pandemic’s impact has been crushing in classrooms where teachers navigated moves from in-person to virtual learning, added COVID safety and cleaning to their laundry list of jobs, supported students’ deteriorating mental health, and so much more. 

With the added stress, it’s no surprise that teachers everywhere have left their increasingly difficult jobs in droves, leading to big upticks in teacher turnover and a substitute teacher shortage.

  • According to DCPS, there were 372 teacher resignations from January through the end of June. That’s an increase from 251 resignations during roughly the same time period in 2021.
Kendall Maloney hugs one of her students.
Photo: Kendall Maloney

Looking back on this difficult year, Maloney says she’s proud of what she and her students have accomplished.

  • “People associate pre-K as a baby class. It’s not. They can do so much,” she says, adding that watching her students at the end of the year always brings her to tears. 

She says this school year in some ways was similar to most: Kids slowly opened up and improved their writing and communication skills. She even had one student who didn’t speak English at the beginning of the year ending the year as one of her top students.

But, there were big differences this year, too. 

Cleaning has always been top priority for pre-K classrooms, but this year she went through a bottle of Lysol spray every week. 

While her kids never complained about wearing masks, they wanted to change them often and it was sometimes tough to find masks that fit their little faces.

Parents were good about donating cleaning supplies, but not so much with project supply donations, likely because parents didn't get to visit the classroom to see class projects for themselves.  

  • “I don’t think the parents know how much effort we put in,” she says.

Furthermore, in an effort to keep students from falling behind, Maloney says there were more District-mandated tests, which were exhausting for teachers and students.

And while she adhered to almost every COVID safety protocol, she just couldn't bring herself to follow the no hugs rule. 

  • “It’s hard to not comfort a child,” she says of supporting students who were upset or scared, especially at the beginning of the year. 
Two pre-k  3 students in their classroom.
Two of Ms. Maloney's students working in class. Photo: Kendall Maloney
Through the year, things slowly got back to normal.

In November, her shy students began to open up; everyone got the hang of potty training; there were fewer tears; and kids were reminding each other to keep six feet apart and to wear their masks.

  • “That's like the beauty of pre-K … it's organized chaos until November,” Maloney says.

Over winter break her biggest fear came true. She and her two-year-old daughter got COVID and she had to teach remotely while her students remained in person.

  • Thankfully, none of her students got COVID during the school year. 

By January, her classroom finally took their first field trip and went to The Little Towns Children’s Museum in Bethesda.

But soon after, the Omicron surge emerged, and pre-K students had to be COVID tested each Sunday before returning to school.

Maloney says she felt more comfortable with the increased testing, but it was challenging to navigate DCPS' frequently changing COVID protocols. 

  • She also says it was tough to determine whether a student was experiencing actual COVID symptoms, versus just a common runny nose or cough.

By February, the Omicron surge slowed and Maloney allowed students to bring in store-bought birthday treats again.

  • The school’s annual Black History Fashion Show still happened, but over Zoom, and Maloney received national attention for organizing an Ebony Magazine-themed photo shoot.

By spring, the school was planning for an in-person assembly where parents would be able to join their kids at school for the first time.

And by the end of May, the regularly scheduled end-of-year restlessness was kicking in. 

  • Though she was also ready for the school year to end, the transition is hard, especially with young kids who assume they’ll have the same teacher the next year. 
  • “You invest so much and then you have to let them fly free,” she says. “I got to cut the cord … but I know they can do it.”

Despite a tough few years of pandemic teaching, Maloney says she’s never thought about leaving the profession, though she understands why other teachers do. 

  • “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

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