All it takes is opening up social media, turning on the news, or checking the headlines to see a parade of opinions about opening up schools in the fall. Unfortunately, the opinion getting the most attention is that teachers should sit down, shut up, and get back in the classroom regardless of the circumstances of the pandemic. In April and May, there was a fair amount of support for teachers as parents grappled with helping their kids learn all day and adjusting to the new situation we had all suddenly been put into. But that support has faded into demonization once again as teachers are told they didn’t really teach in the spring, they sucked at providing remote learning, and their fear of returning to the classroom is unwarranted and cowardly. I have never felt more at home than in the teaching profession and specifically in my classroom – but yesterday I told my mom “I’m going to try really hard to tough it out right now… but this is not what I signed up for.”
I am one of the lucky ones as of now; my district is going to start the year with remote learning and extend it as needed to ensure the safety of staff and students. This is not the case for millions of other teachers across the nation who are being told to return despite record numbers of positive tests and some districts are even having teachers sign a waiver saying they cannot sue the school if they get sick, are hospitalized, or even die. Teachers have always been the martyrs who must put their well-being on the line in order to support and teach all students – but this is something else entirely. This is unacceptable.
With some schools opening up in as little as ten days, and record-breaking numbers still coming in, I implore my fellow teachers to do something about it. Do not take the abuse you have been subjected to over and over again. Do not settle for box-checking surveys about what would make you feel more comfortable on campus just for the district to not implement any of your wishes. Do not shy away from what we have always known to be the avenue for change in our profession: strike. Before I tell you why you can still strike even if it is “illegal” where you are, I first want to remind you of a few things:
Remember we were in the middle of a nationwide teacher shortage in March. Remember how hard it was to get a substitute before there was a life-threatening pandemic. Remember having to drop everything and pick up remote learning with no warning, time to plan, guidance, or training. Remember that despite not being a part of any of the decisions during remote learning in the spring, we were the first to be blamed for any decision we carried out. Remember that our Secretary of Education offered no words of encouragement, guidance, ideas, training, or funding when we went remote – but now she has told the country we failed our students and gave up. Remember they pink-slipped hundreds of thousands of school staff in the spring, and you will be returning to even larger class sizes and smaller budgets in the fall.
Remember that our profession has always been demonized. Remember we already had to buy our students basic supplies, let alone expensive and scarce PPE. Remember we could barely keep toilet paper in our homes, plus school bathrooms rarely had filled soap dispensers or paper towels. Remember the lack of parent support for simple behavior incidents, now you will have to enforce students wearing masks – or parents will be allowed to let them opt-out completely. Remember trying to control something simple like a campus lice outbreak or the seasonal flu.
Remember you are not getting hazard pay in the fall. Remember we barely get paid a professional wage as it is. Remember Red for Ed. Remember that many of the promises made will be broken or end here. Remember we only just started making baby steps of forward progress, and we have now taken leaps backward. Remember you were not included in the decision-making meetings about going back in the fall – or maybe you were, so they could check another box and not actually consider your input. Remember people are getting bills of thousands, tens of thousands, even a hundred thousand dollars for their COVID-19 treatment.
Remember you have acted as a social worker, therapist, counselor, mentor, coach, parent, friend, and teacher to your students your entire career, remote learning included. Remember what the President of the United States and Secretary of Education said about you just days ago. Remember all the hateful and hurtful comments you have read from people who would never dare step foot in the classroom. Remember Red for Ed was illegal.
In 2018 and 2019 Red for Ed took hold in nine states, it was only legal in two of them. It was able to happen because there is strength in numbers. Through social media and hushed conversations with coworkers, teachers realized the majority of the teachers around them were also unhappy. These teachers rallied together until they gathered enough supporters within their schools and districts to organize a walkout. Teachers all called out on the same days and the schools could not operate with such limited staff that they would close for the day – and then they would do it the next day and the next day. They can’t fire everyone when over 70% of the staff is illegally striking. They know as we know that there are not enough people (qualified or not) willing to manage classrooms – now imagine if there will be many volunteers during a pandemic.
If you are being asked to return to your school where you are not comfortable with the environment you will be teaching in with no alternative, then it is time to mobilize Click To Tweet
If you are being asked to return to your school where you are not comfortable with the environment you will be teaching in with no alternative, then it is time to mobilize. It is time to say no. You are more than a babysitter, you are a professional with your own family, responsibilities, and life to worry about. Maybe you are asking yourself: how much worse could it really get? You don’t want to see the answer to that question play out – and it will get worse if teachers continue to take the mistreatment at all levels of our society. This is real and it is happening. The politicians and decision-makers will chip away at your self-worth, professional image, and love for this profession whether you are silently compliant or walking out in defiance. It is time to say enough is enough. Remember that you deserve better, demand better, and walk out until you get it.
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