The Line in the Sand.

I woke up this morning at 3:45 in the morning and proceeded to have an anxiety attack about an impending snow storm. I live in a very hilly neighborhood where traveling in the snow is often very difficult and dangerous at times. I am a teacher, yet my school has refused to allow us to work from home except during a COVID-19 emergency. They claim it is because they support in person learning over remote, but we know that is not the entire story because we have far more students continuing to choose remote rather than come to in person these days. Two out of four of our classrooms continue to offer only remote learning, so this is all a farce. In fact, when they are forced to close, they cancel all classes including the remote, so how are they supporting continuity in educational services? I have spent 32 years as an educator. I just reached the magical age of 55 and I have had enough. I cannot retire, nor do I wish to stop working, but I am done with being micromanaged and having my health and well being in the hands of those who honestly do not care.

A friend recently spoke to me about reaching that line that would separate her from what was wrong and what was right for her life. Reaching the line. For each and every person there is a moment where you do, indeed, reach that feeling of having enough. The realization of having not achieved all that you could be achieving. The end of being treated in a manner less than what you deserve. I have reached that place.

Last February, I was not feeling well, I went to urgent care and received medication for a respiratory infection. I was home resting and my employer was not happy that I was out of work for more than one day. I returned while still under the weather. This resulted in my getting sick again in March. I did not return to work quickly after that. I was sick from March 9 until the end of March. My doctor suggested that my husband and I get tested for COVID-19. At this time, our part of the country had limited tests and only gave the test if a person met a certain criteria. My part of the city only had 2 people who had tested positive. We were afraid, but we headed to the emergency room to be evaluated. We were treated and testing was not deemed necessary at this time. However, we had enough symptoms to quarantine. I proceeded to go home and spend much of the next three weeks in bed, with a fever and many other symptoms, which in March were not considered COVID 19 symptoms. I kept in contact with my doctor because he wanted me to return to the emergency room if I had trouble breathing. During this time, I was the mother and wife my family had never seen before. I really could not get out of bed easily. I was running fevers daily, I was shivering under several blankets, my body was a mass of pain, and inflammation. I have rheumatoid arthritis, therefore the pain in my joints was very intense. I could not eat and what I could eat, I did not keep much of it down. It was too taxing for me to raise my arm to get a bottle of water or Gatorade to drink, but my husband checked on me regularly to force me to drink something. I have a C-PAP machine, so my husband had me sit up, propped on pillows and using the machine all day to help my cough and regulate my breathing. In addition to that, he forced me to get out of bed and walk up and down the hallway and even the staircase, which I cried about because my joints ached so badly. I normally have a terrible time losing weight, but I dropped 15 pounds in two weeks. I was extremely pale, and my cheeks had a sunken look to them. Standing was difficult, I felt like at any time, my legs would just give out. My husband was recovering from illness as well, but he was a week ahead of me and had run a fever for only three days to my total of 17 days of fever before it finally broke. As someone with a 96-97 degree normal body temperature, and had run a fever so rarely that we could count it using two hands, this was a very difficult time for me. On the final day I ran a fever, I awoke at 5:00 in the morning to use the bathroom. I practically crawled to the bathroom because I felt so weak, and I looked at the face in the mirror and almost did not recognize myself. The world around me was cloudy, I could barely see. I dragged myself back to bed, looked at my pillow and somehow I knew that if I laid down, I was going to die. I just felt it. I felt like I was floating over myself, like in a dream. I reached for my C-PAP mask and it was a struggle for my hands to put it on. Somehow I got it on, I sat on the edge of my bed, I kept putting my head between my knees, breathing was difficult. I saw my husband sleeping on his side of the bed, I had no voice to call him, my arms would not work to reach out to him. I started to talk to God in my head. I said ‘God, my father is very sick, he said once that he could not survive losing a child.” His heart was broken for a friend who had lost his daughter and often said he did not know how this friend got through it. I continued to speak to God silently, ” it is your will to do with me what you want, but I know that I am needed here with my family. I know I have more to do in this world. I pray you give me more time.” I sat there for an hour. All of the sudden, I felt like a huge weight was lifted from me, I could move again. My arms worked again. I stood up and my legs did not crumble. I sat back down and woke up my husband. I told him what happened. I took my temperature and I had no fever. After more than two weeks of fever, it was finally gone. Some of my energy returned. I felt awake. I was grateful, I was happy.

That day, I went outside for the first time in weeks. I sat in a chair in my back yard with a mask on. My mother, who lives next door, looked out of her window and gasped. I was very pale and she was not expecting that. I felt better, but weak and beat up. I know that I am a survivor, that I was very close to not making it to the next day.

Two weeks later, my father took a turn for the worst. He suffered another stroke and passed away the next day. It has been a very sobering experience to lose someone during COVID-19. It was April 2020 in New York City. Therefore there was no funeral. A simple graveside service with just my family and my brother’s family, and two of my father’s caretakers. My oldest brother was not allowed to leave his state and come to us. My Aunt was not allowed to travel and say good bye to her brother. None of the members of our large extended family were permitted. The many people whose lives were touched by my father were not able to see us, or to pay tribute to a man who meant a great deal to them. He deserved so much more than a 15 minute speech and prayer at the cemetery. Afterwards, we were not permitted to be together, to eat together at a repast. It was a sad and lonely time. I do not feel recovered from that. It is a very hard way to say goodbye to a loved one.

In May, I took an antibodies test and it confirmed that I had indeed had COVID -19. I truly feel that I barely scraped through that illness.

That is why I now hate to waste time. I want to be happy. I want to do what I am supposed to do, to leave my mark on this world. Life is way too short and we are all here for a specific reason. I do not believe I am here to be sitting at a job where I feel as though every move I make is micromanaged. Every idea I have is shut down by someone who has a great need to be the one who controls all that happens in every aspect. I am too old to be where adults are punished for advocating for their rights and sharing their opinions.

The line has always been there, and the day arrives when you are finally standing with your toes right next to that line. You either cross that line and lose yourself or you walk away and do what makes you happy. We all deserve to be happy. Happiness is not what you have to hold in your hands. It is not expensive cars, clothes, jewelry or accessories. It is getting up each day motivated and energized to do what makes you feel alive. Life is not counting the days on a calendar until you get to the weekend or to a vacation. It is celebrating each moment, it is being so comfortable where you are, that a vacation is simply being happy in new surroundings, rather than an escape from your everyday world. Happiness is who you share your life with. Whether it is your spouse, your friends or your pets, or even if you are comfortable being alone, it is where you should be content, and calm.

One day, we wake up and realize that we do not live forever. That our family and friends will not always be there. At any given time, we can leave this earth. There is simply no time to waste being miserable. I have reached the line and I know that it is time to walk away and do what is best for me. I have worked hard raising my children, doing what is best for others. This is for me.

I have great plans to use the gifts I have been given to make other people’s lives better. What better way is there to live, than to make others happy?

Back to School 2020

Social media and our news has been flooded with stories about how teachers are “afraid” to return to their classrooms.  The general public has either been incredibly sympathetic or cruel and judgmental.  Calls to dock their pay or calling teachers “chickens” and comparing them nurses in a way to shame them has been a regular occurrence on Facebook, Twitter, and other means of mass communication.

I have been an educator for 31 years.  I love my students.  I have former students who are old enough to have children who could be my current students.  I love reading about what they are doing, I love seeing photographs of their children and seeing what they are doing with their lives.

I have always loved the start of the school year.  The newness, the expectations,  how refreshed we all are after taking time out to breathe and regroup over the summer.  I excitedly plan my welcome back bulletin boards.  I think of new ways to set up the classroom and ideas to make the year more successful.

Teachers WANT to be in their classrooms.  They are NOT lazy.  They are NOT weak.  In fact, they are far from weak.   How many of you who are standing in judgment deal with 30+ people in the various stages of development, hormones raging if they are pre-teens and teenagers,  humans filled with anxiety or perhaps crying due to separation from their parents if they are younger, many who have zero interest in being in your presence, of sitting down and hearing what you have to say.  How many of you are spending 7 hours with those same people trying to motivate and guide them through materials and protocol that often you have nothing to do with deciding upon?

Teachers today are extremely micromanaged by others who in most cases, have either not been inside a classroom for years or have, in fact, never been inside a classroom.  How many of you are told how to do your job by people who have not put in the time to earn the degree?  Have worked hard and experienced what you experience on a daily basis?  Not as many as there were years ago.  Years ago, administrators had to have a great deal of classroom experience.  That is not the case anymore.    The loudest screams, the toughest criticism comes most often from parents who are struggling at home to handle 1-3 children of their own, yet they are the experts on how you should be doing YOUR job.

Teachers deal with this.  They look past it, they do yoga and meditation and have a glass of wine or laugh with colleagues, they rise above.  But this time.  Many cannot.  They cannot because they do not TRUST those who are in charge of preparing how this year and perhaps the future of their lives will look like.  They cannot trust corrupt systems who have repeatedly put their own personal interests ahead of the children of their city, or their state, of their town, of their own communities.

In addition to being a teacher, I have been a parent for almost 25 years.  I have sent in cleaning supplies every single year that I have had a child in school.  Every single year, and I have three children.  As a teacher, I have collected these supplies, kept track of who sent in what, so that I did not ask the same parent to send in more over and over.  I have replenished out of my own pocket every single year, the same as countless other teachers, all while supplying my own children’s classrooms.  After all of these years of supplying out our own pockets, how are we to trust that supplies will be readily available for us to use when we are told that we are to ward off germs in addition to the work we are already responsible for?   We are put in the position to be sure the children in our care are safe every day.  Safe from injury, safe from intruders, safe from possible armed attacks while in school, safe from bullies, and now safe from viruses that we know little about.   Yes, we will do that.  We will continue to put our children’s well being first.  However, will YOU supply us with the tools we need?  Will you be honest with us when there are problems?  Will you be honest with us about the true safety issues facing us?  Will you be honest with us about where the money that is supposed to be used to help us and our students have a better year?  The answer is a resounding NO.

The answer is NO.  It is no in the New York City Department of Education although, they will tell you that the answer is YES.  It has been NO for many years now.  They simply do not put the needs of our city’s children first in any situation.  If they did, we probably would not have been hit with as many reported illnesses or deaths in the school system as we were.  We would not have had to make as many changes as we have to now.  Our children should ALWAYS be learning in classrooms with smaller class sizes.  They deserve the attention a teacher is able to give them in a class of 15 rather than a class of 32 or more.  Studies show that smaller class sizes are 100% more beneficial and conducive for learning.  It is a no brainer.

But instead.  they take our money, they hire their friends.  Friends who are not qualified to be a part of your child’s education.  Have no business being involved because they are clueless about the process and the appropriate needs of students.  they hire themselves, Yoga gurus.  They hire outside vendors at high prices to do jobs that they themselves should be doing.

They have had since March to take action.  But they have not.  They have tossed things together and left principals standing there holding a half-empty bag of ideas most of which are unusable in the schools that principals are trying to get up and running again.

In addition to all of this, we have the media reporting stories to rile up the masses rather than inform them.  To either anger people or frighten them, it depends upon the day.  No one truly has any idea how dangerous this virus is because of the stories and the number change depending upon what is happening in the news that day.

Make no mistake.  People WANT some normalcy.  Anyone who believes that the average person wants to sit in their house day after day with no contact with anyone, no hugs, no restaurants, sports with no fans, no indoor dining, no big weddings or concerts is wrong. The average person likes to the freedom to come and go as he or she pleases, without worrying about whether they brought their mask, without concern of whether they break a new rule.  Teachers want to teach IN their classrooms with children in front of them,   Please stop ridiculing them.  Please stop vilifying them.

Are some teachers afraid?  Yes, of course, this is the case.  Many have some health issues, have a family member with health issues, have known someone who has died from the virus, or perhaps simply,  like me, have been in the field long enough to truly feel overwhelmed and exhausted by all of the new training and rules that will ultimately distract us from learning.    I am over 50, I have an autoimmune disease and a disabled son, whose world has been tossed and turned as well.  So I am on leave at this moment trying to make some sense of things for him before I look to return to “normal”.  But what is my new normal?  I do not know yet.  In fact, very few people know what they will be doing tomorrow, never mind a new normal for the school year.

Let’s support one another.  Let us recognize that no one can trust what we are hearing or being told right now.  We all need to keep open minds.  We all need to care for each other.  We need to not judge.  We, as humans first, need to stand together.