Teacher Feature: Mrs. O’Grady

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Connoisseur of Women’s history and all things Tudor, Mrs. Heather O’Grady has been a history teacher at West Potomac for 9 years. She’s married to Mr. O’Grady, an English teacher, and she teaches World History, Humanities, and AP Human Geography. She never wanted to be a teacher, she wanted to be a lawyer. She even went as far as getting a job at a law firm in D.C. for 2 years before she decided that she didn’t enjoy it, so she had to go back to the drawing board. She and her mother went through the “alphabet of occupations,” in order to figure out what she wanted to do and she realized that she wanted to be a teacher, something she had a background in as a T.A. and teaching ASL classes to second graders, so she went back to school and became a teacher.

This was a fantastic choice, because she really enjoys teaching. She enjoys when students “get it,” and “understand why this is important, I like when that clicks with students, that it’s more than memorizing a date or a fact.” It gives her hope for the future. However, teaching does have some pitfalls, she really dislikes when policy is made by people who haven’t been in a classroom in a very long time or people who don’t know what it’s like to be in a classroom in 2020 and are making decisions about what the classroom should look like.

In this age of virtual school, she thinks that there are a lot of problems with the virtual classroom. She admits that it is probably better for introverts, but many are struggling with the “massive overhaul of everything that everybody knows about education.”

Monday work is one of the most controversial aspects of this virtual school set up. She recognizes that many students are “struggling” with the amount of Monday work, but she feels that teachers aren’t assigning more work then they have been in the past. The problem with the Monday work is that the students are given 7 hours worth of work to do without breaks or help from a teacher. In school there’s a mix to it that helps the students stay focused. 

In the next couple months or so, it is said that Fairfax County students will start coming back to school for two days a week, the hybrid system, or have half a class coming to school while the other half stay home, this is the concurrent system. But according to Mrs. O’Grady this poses issues of its own. Some students would choose not to go back to school and would have little interaction with those who did. 

She worries that the concurrent system will be detrimental in some cases and cause the students who didn’t come back to school for some reason, to feel “isolated.” Also in order to make the concurrent model work, where some students come to school and others stay at home, teachers will be required to teach to two different groups at once, which severely limits what the teacher is able to do. Teachers will have to lecture to both groups of students which presents an issue as,”we’ve been told for years now not to stand in front of class and lecture. That’s not what we do and that’s not the best thing for the students.” There are also problems with the hybrid system because students will go to school for 2 days and be alone by themselves for 3 days and she fears what will happen to the students on those three days when they don’t have teachers to help walk them through problems and keep them on track. With these fears she says, ”Until I see someone actually modeling this in a way that is productive and beneficial for students. I hesitate to jump on board because I think it would actually make things worse than they are now.” While this is a possibility, hopefully the school board will find a way that gets the job done, even though it isn’t perfect.

She imagines that the only way to get students in school in a way that worked for everyone is only possible, “if we had a time machine.” She recognizes that there are no perfect solutions and says that “I wish there were a solution, but like there’s no good solution. All virtual is bad, concurrent model is bad, hybrid model is bad, bringing everyone in without masks is bad. It’s all bad.” There’s no good option, but in this time of uncertainty, she’s doing her best to keep teaching the next generation.