As we continue to grapple with the changes that are impacting our communities, school reopening plans are at the forefront of most conversations. It is not hard to recognize that most everyone is flying by the seat of their pants as decisions are made and unmade with little notice. The issue of schools reopening continues to be politicized not just by our government, but also by the school boards, parents, and even students we serve.
Families are increasingly afforded the option of school choice. Most importantly, now they are using this choice as a way to hold school districts hostage to their demands. Districts are already facing financial constraints relatable to the Great Recession, and they will do anything to keep headcounts to maintain funding. Many parents know this and have used this as leverage in protests, emails, phone calls, and interviews that have demanded schools reopen by any means necessary. If the districts don’t do what they want, well they’ll take their child to the charter school down the street.
Over summer, a lot of districts seemed to be doing the right thing. They sent out surveys not just to parents, but to students and even teachers! There were so many choices between remote, hybrid, and online options, and the districts were smart to make sure everyone felt like their opinion mattered. At that time, many districts let their teachers believe they would be taken care of. Through the wording of questions and emails from the highest admin, many of us were assured we could teach remotely if that is where we were most comfortable, and that it wouldn’t impact our salary.
Time has not been kind to teachers. Click To Tweet
Time has not been kind to teachers. Slowly and quietly, the tone of everyone around us has changed. Besides the parents and community members going from calling us heroes to lazy snowflakes for not wanting to risk our health by teaching in person, we also have seen districts shift from asking teachers what they want to tell them what they will do. The surveys used to ask us which method of delivery we preferred for teaching, but now the surveys ask if we will be teaching in person or not receiving a salary.
There is no remote option to select – it is in-person or unemployment. However, students and parents are still being offered all of the options. Across the country, they are still receiving surveys where they can select remote, in person, or hybrid, or at least some combination of those choices. In some cases, students who return are also allowed to opt-out of wearing a mask. Teachers do not get to opt-out of being in a room full of mask-less students.
Teachers do not get to opt-out of being in a room full of mask-less students. Click To Tweet
Nevermind teachers who have personal health concerns. A virus is out there that sends many people to the hospital and can leave them with long-term organ damage. Take a guess who will foot the expensive hospital bills that underpaid teachers will inevitably end up with. Apparently long-term damage to your heart, lungs, and other organs is now just part of the job so suck it up. You might be able to use ADA to get leave, but good luck getting it approved, plus you can’t use it if the person at a higher risk isn’t yourself. Therefore high-risk spouses, live-in parents, children, or other family members will not excuse you from in-person teaching.
Plus, they also get to take on the workload of managing multiple modes of delivery to support the choices families have made. Teachers are forced into the classroom and get to still teach those kids sitting at home – while they also have kids sitting in front of them live. If you are wondering how they juggle it all, the answer is they just work even more unsustainable hours for no extra pay.
Some of the surveys that came out were nice enough to ask what conditions would make educators more comfortable with teaching in person. Questions asked about masks, face shields, Plexiglas and other barriers, social distancing, smaller class sizes, etc. But wait, parents got similar surveys: where they were able to make their selections based on politics and similar rhetoric to anti-vaxxers. Which opinions do you think won those battles?
For the schools that are adopting a strong set of guidelines, many still lack the funding to put them into practice. Teachers have been left with no choice – they will shell out their own money to pay for supplies that will ultimately keep them safe. Sure, we are used to spending our own money (though always unacceptable), but now we are expected to make sure each student has their own set of supplies while also outfitting our rooms with protective equipment. The reality is if they don’t, many teachers will only further risk their own health, and to many that just isn’t an option.
Even as we watch countless colleges and universities close after only a week of being opened, school districts press on. For what reason, one cannot even imagine since the idea that children do not spread the virus has already been debunked. There are even districts seeing mass resignations that still push to reopen, while the districts around them press on as well. Ironically, in many schools where transitions to hybrid or in-person models are occurring, students will still be working on computers with their teacher at least six feet away. What am I to take from this situation other than the fact that I am nothing more than an underpaid babysitter?
There are no raises for taking on the extra risk of teaching during a pandemic. Click To Tweet
There are no raises for taking on the extra risk of teaching during a pandemic. There are no raises for taking on the extra risk of teaching during a pandemic. There are no raises, stipends, or bonuses for doubling or tripling workloads as teachers manage remote, hybrid, and in-person students. There are hardly even any supply budgets to outfit a classroom to be safe for a small crowd of children and an overworked adult.
While parents get to choose where their child will learn – while parents get to threaten to unenroll their student to get the guidelines they want – while students get to choose which option works best for them – while board members get to choose to use Zoom for the meetings that demand teachers be in-person – teachers have no choice. We will return in person or else. Districts know they will lose teachers to this, and despite having already been in a teacher shortage, they will gladly accept the resignations (and larger class sizes) as they push staff back into classrooms.
In March, I wrote a personal essay that was later published called “Why Would Anyone Choose to be a Teacher in 2020?” I talked about how I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, the ways to avoid burnout, and the passion I have for my job. But this isn’t what any of us signed up for. This is not the profession I wrote about in March. I never would have imagined when I wrote that essay that this is what I would be facing only six months later.
Why would anyone choose to be a teacher in 2020? I wouldn’t.
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