ANGOLA — Metropolitan School District of Steuben County teachers said they deserve substantial pay increases for the work they are doing since the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

At Thursday afternoon’s public hearing in the McCutchan Administrative Center, Brant Moore, lead negotiator for the Angola Classroom Teachers Association, and Carlin Park Elementary School teacher Teresa Kilburn said teachers deserve more than the standard 3% raise.

The annual fall public hearing is a relatively new legal requirement for Indiana school salary negotiations. Formal bargaining begins Sept. 15 and must conclude by Nov. 15.

A few teachers and administrators attended the short meeting on Thursday, facilitated by attorney Mark Scudder.

“We end the day with our heads spinning,” said Kilburn. “We are doing triple the work. It’s almost like being a first-year teacher again.”

Comments at the hearing were recorded and will be provided to the MSD school board.

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, schooling has not been easy for teachers or students.

From going all online during the last part of the 2019-20 school year, to now both virtual and online, it has not been easy.

Teachers are becoming stressed out, based on comments at the most recent MSD school board meeting. More students are changing to online everyday. Students at the beginning of the year were given the option of either going online or in-person in school. When going online students must finish the semester online but can switch back to in-school at the next semester. Students can switch to online anytime they please.

“Online is just easier,” said high school student Brennen Doolittle. “My grades are better than normal, but I wish there was more communication between the school and the parents or students.”

Classes went from being as many as 30 people to 15 or even less. Students are required to wear masks throughout the day and have to follow proper social distancing rules during classes and lunch. Students are also getting used to wiping down their desks with sanitizer after every class period.

Students who are online say their social life is fading away but they are willing to sacrifice that for their grades and an easier way to do school.

Teachers are struggling with teaching both virtually and in the classroom.

“I prefer in-person teaching,” said Angola High School science teacher John Berger. “It’s stressful on the teachers having half and half. I wish we would either all go online or in class — no in between.”

Not only are teachers fighting for their own sake, but they are fighting to help each other and each student learn.

“We’re keeping track of three different groups,” said Moore. That includes students learning in school, students studying outside of school and those who leave for a period of time due to illness or exposure to the virus.

“Two to three kids are out for a couple of days, then come back in,” said Moore.

Teachers and students all seem overwhelmed. Moore said he conducted a survey to determine how many hours teachers were putting in during the first weeks of this school year. All of the teachers polled were working additional hours after the work day and on the weekends to meet the needs of parents helping students at home.

Although teachers are stressed, most are finding ways to relieve stress and having fun with both virtual and online classrooms.

“There is nothing quite like all being together in one room talking about the things we have going on in our life, the things we are reading. But seeing as this is not an ideal situation and world right now, I would say that I am happy we are allowing those who wish to do virtual work to do so and those who feel comfortable coming to school to do so as well,” said Angola High School English teacher Cynthia Mayfield.

Every day teachers are getting better and better at handling the tasks of both online and virtual classrooms, they say. Through these hard times teachers and students are finding ways to adapt.

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