Back to School in a Pandemic: Why Aren’t We Protecting Our Teachers?

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protecting our teachers

I was a public school teacher for thirteen years. My kids attend public schools, and I will proudly say that if there is one thing I truly believe in, it’s the power of public education. So when the debate about the back to school plan started circulating, I struggled to understand what it would look like. Deep in my heart, I wanted to believe that when decisions would be made, the teachers would be a part of it. Unfortunately, I was proven once again, the ugly truth – public education is not valued in our country. 

We are in the midst of a public health crisis. People are getting sick. People are dying. Our numbers are rising. So why are we rushing to get our children back into school? Trust me. I understand. Not all children benefit from e-learning, and it’s a real disservice to many of them. I mean, I can’t even tell you the number of times I lost my cool trying to get my kids to “just do the assignment.” And how much did they truly learn? Not nearly as much as if they were in school. But let’s be clear on one thing:

This is not the teachers’ fault.

So now the plans are rolling out and the options have been put into the hands of the parents to make the ultimate decision: how will your children learn this year? Will it be in person or online? Now, that conversation is for another day because you better believe I have more to say about this. But what I want to focus on is the important pieces in this complicated puzzle – our teachers.

How are we protecting our teachers?

You see, teachers do not get into this profession for the money. Clearly we all know we aren’t going to be millionaires. It’s the connections and relationships, and those smiling faces you are greeted with each and every single day. That is why we teach. But this year it will be different. There will be no hugs from those smiling faces and really no smiles either because they will be covered from ear to ear by a mask. And as eager as these teachers are to get back into the classroom, the fear of getting sick and protecting their family and loved ones is hanging heavy over their heads.

I had a conversation with my former teaching partner last week, and she flat out said to me, “I just have to assume I’m going to get sick.” And that has stuck with me ever since. No one should be forced to go to work and “assume” they are going to catch a deadly virus. You can “assume” you will catch the flu, a cold or even head lice. But the mindset that you are going to catch a virus that has killed hundreds of thousands of people? That’s not right.

It’s like we are throwing them into a lion’s den with a single rock and telling them to defend themselves.

What are the protocols? Beyond cleaning, providing hand sanitizing, and the mere suggestion of masks, why aren’t we scheduling statewide testing for students, teachers, and staff returning back to school? I mean, the MLB is testing their players EVERY TWO DAYS, yet the state can’t even provide ONE SINGLE TEST for teachers? 

But most importantly, where is the teacher input in this situation?

For decades, teachers continue to be silenced, and their voices are muffled among rules and laws put into place by people who have never stepped into a classroom before. We rally. We make noise. We ask for support. Yet the people who are in charge of making the final say and have zero years of classroom experience continue to turn their backs on the people who know what’s best for children. You know, the people who are working DIRECTLY with the children. Where is their voice in this decision? 

And while all these protocols and safety measures are in the plans, any teacher knows that in reality, it’s not a guarantee. Teachers are shopping for aprons or scrubs to wear instead of regular clothes. They are stocking up on face masks and face shields, purchasing PPE for themselves with THEIR OWN MONEY. Sanitizing supplies are on backorder and not guaranteed for the start of the year in some districts. Truth be told, the number of times I cleaned my classroom with my own cleaning supplies because of the lack of resources and hired custodial staff would blow your mind. There are so many moving parts right now that aren’t being fully executed. 

We are putting our teachers and students at risk—bottom line.

I won’t fight you on the fact that our kids NEED to be in school. It’s where they learn best. It’s where they thrive. I feel that one to the core. But at what expense are we doing it? The fact that there are teachers who are currently writing their living wills before they head into the classroom should cause you concern. It should make you stop in your tracks. The number of positive coronavirus cases are rising, and they will continue to rise. Numbers aren’t declining and are no where near being gone. There isn’t a vaccine yet, and herd immunity isn’t even an option. So I urge you to reach out to the teachers you know and talk to them. Ask them what YOU can do to SUPPORT them. These are the people who love on our babies like their own. And they are scared. So now it is our turn to be the heroes for them. 

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