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.