I haven’t posted a blog in ages. This past year has been a dreary year, to say the least. In other to add some vibrance to my life and creativity, this year, I decided to challenge myself by creating some daily portraits of my friends and acquaintances – 1 portrait a day – and post on my Facebook page. It’s a tough challenge especially since I am not the most consistent person when it comes to doing optional tasks every day. Let’s just say that it has been one of the most rewarding things that I have ever done as I have photographed over 40 people and I have learned a lot about studio photography and people. And it’s just February 23. I actually went through the month of January without missing a day. That has to be the first time that I have done anything, that wasn’t compulsory, daily for 31 straight days!! Anyway, enough of my background story.

As many Triangle residents might know, in the past week or two, Durham Public Schools (among other public school systems all over the country) suddenly decided to reopen schools due to governmental and parental pressure (and other reasons). Reopen in the next few weeks, after having told teachers and students that we will remain online until the end of the school year. This was decided without consulting the teachers. It has shaken many teachers to the core of their being. As a fellow teacher, I can definitely say that the decision was very disappointing, to say the least. After ruminating on the fiasco for the past few days, I have decided to contribute to the story by putting some teachers’ stories and perspectives out there. As part of my daily project, I will be photographing my educator friends and colleagues for the next week or two.

The portraits and words of my first educator are below. The questions are optional. They don’t have to answer them. I’m titling this set, “Fingers crossed.”

Q: What is your name?

Aja Johnson

Q: What do you teach or do in the school system and what grade do you work with?

I am an Elementary School Counselor.

Q: What made you (or inspired you) to become an educator?

I always knew I wanted to help people and went into the business department during college. While in college I was working in a group home and on leaving to work in banking I realized I missed the kids. I ended up going back to grad school with the goal of working in college advising. Through experience, I realized I preferred elementary students over adults.

Q: How are you feeling?

I am feeling indifferent. For me, that means I am internally freaking out about life and work.

Q: What is your mood like right now?

I am exhausted. My every thought is consumed with work and I am unable to unplug because its life and death right now, literally.

Q: How do you feel about the sudden return to school buildings?

I am angry. I am upset that we thought we had life figured out and got into the swing of things only to have the rug pulled from under us. We are already in a state of uncertainty; to have a decision this large reversed feels like a slap in the face. I would like to know what changed and who put fear in the district’s heart. And why are we no longer following the previous return guidelines (4% rule)?

Q: How do you think it affects or impacts the students’ learning?

I believe we are providing our students and families with false hope. They think things will go “back to normal” but not considering the restrictions, a limited movement around the building. I understand the need to have children back in school but there are better and safer ways to do this.

Q: As honestly as you can, do you think it’s time to return to the building? If not, when do you think will be a more appropriate time?

No. Allowing the teachers the proper time to prepare physically and mentally is important. Are we really ready to be “on for eight hours a day? It takes over three weeks to prepare to open school, how can teachers teach AND prepare their classrooms? It is disappointing that we are being forced back before we could get vaccinated. I believe we are sacrificing the mental health of our most essential members of society. Do you really want undervalued people in the classroom right now? I believe returning after Spring Break allows everyone to be vaccinated and return at a natural starting point.

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