Westwood HS teacher balances duties as Mom at home, Mrs. in the virtual classroom

Updated: Aug. 26, 2020 at 11:28 AM EDT
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BLYTHEWOOD, S.C. (WIS) - Splitting duty between Mrs. and Mom: it’s how Heather Johnson will be going back to school.

Richland School District Two is beginning the year virtually in an effort to keep disease spread low, while disease activity remains high in Richland County. The virtual model is supposed to take the burden off of schools trying to prevent clusters from forming, but inevitably, it’ll add more burden for teachers who are working to teach remotely.

If you’re a teacher like Johnson, who teaches sports medicine at Westwood High School and is also the head athletic trainer, you’re in charge of the education of dozens to hundreds of kids. Then, there are the kids at home. Johnson has two: Tyler, age 7 and Charlie, age 3.

“I quickly underestimated what it was like to have those two running around plus my own stuff to do,” Johnson said. “That first week we started, there was a lot of stress because who do you pay attention to? Do I pay attention to my class or do I pay attention to him? There’s only so many hours. Someone’s gonna get shortchanged... so who do you focus on?”

When the pandemic hit South Carolina in March, Johnson said her life changed quickly and dramatically. She was responsible not only for the learning of her kids at Westwood High but also her two youngest learners inside her home.

All of that -- while encountering the unknowns of a pandemic that has affected thousands of South Carolinians.

“Being an athletic trainer, you almost know too much from that side. So, how do you keep your fears contained and not show that to your kids?” she said.

When she found out school was starting virtually again this fall, she knew it would require a lot of sacrifice, hard work, and careful planning.

Her son, Tyler, is going back to school virtually this fall at Lake Carolina Elementary until disease activity lowers. Meanwhile, she’ll be teaching her sports medicine classes remotely, while caring for athletes in person during practices.

She expressed what so many South Carolina teachers are feeling right now as she stares down the reality of virtually homeschooling in two separate directions.

“I feel like I’m gonna let somebody down,” Johnson said. “One way or another. If I focus on my child, I’m not doing my job. And if I focus on my job, who’s gonna teach my child?”

We asked her what are you more worried about: the short term effects of getting the virus or the long term effects on kids being out of school? She said she doesn’t think you can pick. But while you can’t pick the lesser of two evils right now, you can choose how you will approach the start of a semester full of unknowns -- both as a parent and as a teacher.

“[If] you’re not a teacher, that’s ok. They’re your child and, right now, all you can do is love and support them, keep them safe,” Johnson said.

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