‘How Can I Retire?’: Teachers Won’t Let COVID End Long GDS Careers

Richard Avidon reading at his desk. Photo by Hercules Zhang.

Over the course of the pandemic, GDS was not immune to the phenomenon known as the “Great Resignation.” Several teachers and administrators left the school, including some of the ones who have been around the longest—Kevin Barr retired in 2020 after 44 years, and Bill George retired in 2021 after 38. (Barr returned to GDS this school year as a temporary hiring consultant.) Many of their contemporaries, however, have chosen to stay. 

“Every year at this time, I’m thinking, ‘Is it time to retire?’” performing arts teacher Laura Rosberg, who is in her 44th year at GDS, said in an interview with the Bit. “And then I have a day like today and I think, ‘How can I retire? I like it too much.’” Rosberg emphasized the tremendous joy that she receives from watching her students progress through their four years of high school.

When GDS stopped in-person school in March of 2020, Rosberg and her students were in the middle of rehearsing Matilda the Musical. Separated by COVID restrictions, Rosberg and the cast had to find a new way to perform. Two months later, they successfully recorded parts of the musical over Zoom. “It’s never dawned on me to not do shows,” Rosberg said.

History teacher Sue Ikenberry, who started at GDS in 1983, said that the presence of masks at school has made it difficult to remember students by face. “What I used to do is take pictures of every kid and hold up their name and then have my granddaughter quiz me on them,” she added. “In the next week, I would know everybody. Masks just don’t allow that.”

“Other than the masks, we can still participate together,” history teacher Richard Avidon said. “We can laugh. We can’t always tell when someone’s smiling, but usually you can.”

“Every so often, somebody will drop their mask, and I’m like, ‘Who the hell are you?’” English teacher John Burghardt said. “I just know people as a rack of eyes.”  

Avidon has worked at GDS for 33 years. Burghardt has been at the school for 46. “Many, many years ago, I discovered that the way to get to know my students a little bit better is to see the other things they do: the extracurriculars,” Avidon said. The pandemic, however, has made that difficult. “I couldn’t see my actors acting, my singers singing and my sports players playing sports,” he explained. 

For Burghardt, dealing with challenges like the pandemic is a fundamental part of being a teacher. Before he was vaccinated, he was worried about the health risks posed by teaching in person, but said of his concern that “the frustration of not being able to do the job outweighed it.”

Senior Joya Breinholt is in Ikenberry’s advisory and does an independent study with her. “She is obviously one of the most experienced teachers at GDS, which I just see as a 100 percent good thing,” Breinholt said. “She understands so much about the school and so much about its history.”

Junior Sophie Klein, who has Burghardt for English, reiterated Breinholt’s view that years of experience lend value to the classroom. 

The common thread among the teachers whom the Bit interviewed was a profound appreciation for their students in the face of pandemic-associated difficulties.

“I wasn’t going to let a pandemic change my life,” Avidon said. “All I’m being asked to do is teach. I was happy to do it.”

CORRECTION (Feb. 14): An earlier version of this article erroneously said that Sophie Klein’s mom, aunt and two brothers took classes taught by John Burghardt. They all attended GDS during his tenure; they were not all students of Burghardt’s.