Twenty-four-year-old Mckayla Hodges always wanted to become a YouTuber, and she did—vlogging about her day job as a teacher, which she started two years ago. Virtually the moment Hodges got the hang of YouTube, earning close to four thousand subscribers on the platform this spring, she, like every other teacher in America, was sent home due the pandemic. But after a summer of quarantining, she’s going back—and bringing her camera with her. 

While cases in Tennessee, where Hodges teaches third grade, have started to decline somewhat, she’s returning to the classroom when America is still deep into its first wave of COVID-19. Many teachers have spoken out about returning for the 2020-2021 school year, and a high school in Georgia has already been criticized after a widely-shared photo of a crowded hallway inevitably preceded reports of nine cases of COVID. Speaking over the phone, however, Hodges says she doesn’t resent going back to her classroom. In fact, she feels that documenting and sharing how her school is operating in the pandemic is not just another one of her duties as an influencer, but her duty as a teacher, as well. 

What is your school district’s approach to back-to-school?
We gave the parents the option to have their kids return to in-person school. If they wanted to have them do virtual school, we are providing one-to-one devices. 

How do you feel about going back?
In my classroom [last year] I had flexible seating and my subscribers had donated all this stuff from my Amazon wishlist. So I had rugs and pillows and I just had this really cozy, safe, warm space. Because of sanitation, social distancing, all that stuff, I had to take it away. So I definitely am mourning the loss of my sweet little cozy classroom. But at the same time, I'm just really excited. I feel like I physically haven't been back to work since we got out on March 13th. 

Obviously I want whatever's going to be safest for the kids and safest for my coworkers and the staff and the faculty. But I trust my school district and I trust that they're going to make smart decisions that are gonna keep me safe and also to the kids safe. And then of course their families, ‘cause they're going back home to their families after every day. So I just want to keep everyone safe as much as possible. If that means I can't have, you know, beanbags and pillows in my room for one year, then so be it. 

How did your videos change during the pandemic? 
It was definitely very sad because I was just sitting in my apartment. I ended up canceling [a vacation] and from there on out, I'm not gonna lie, it was not the popping content that I expected or that I had wanted. It was definitely an interesting time to be an influencer. 

Are you doing anything specific with your content to be mindful of the anxiety surrounding going back to school?
I'm trying to keep it extremely real. I feel like a lot of times I follow teachers [online] and it's just like rainbows and butterflies. I'm trying to still respect the district and I'm only saying things and giving out information that is general knowledge to the public at this point. I'm showing my classroom so if we say that kids are going to be so many feet apart, anybody can go onto my YouTube channel and [see]. This is teaching in a pandemic. This is what it looks like.

And parents can watch the videos to know their kids are safe. 
For sure. I only say that because I've had parents who in past years have watched my videos. I am very aware that I may be showing this to other 20-year-olds, but also maybe showing it to someone's grandma or caregiver or guardian.