To say that I did well during quarantine is an understatement. I am a solid introvert and in addition to chronic conditions like asthma and extra bones, I have both generalised and social anxiety. And... to just add a big ole cherry to that, I broke my foot severely in the fall and hadn't been able to walk for 6 months. Quarantine allowed my foot to heal, gave my anxiety fried nerves much needed rest, and allowed me to reset myself. I haven't had a really bad panic attack since February/early March. And yet, I am terrified.
And... I am sad. I was in a trailer this last year and we were essentially told via automated phone system that we shouldn't return to school... at all. I finally got the okay to come clean out my trailer to move back into the building and I was met with a classroom ready to pick back up on a "next day" that never happened. I was greeted by unfinished artwork, tests that were never made up, and a list of notes of things to check in with students about. It felt like walking into a frozen scene where you expect things to start again any second. I remember packing up my room thinking, "at least next year I'll be in the building and I can start again.. right?" Now, I'm not so sure.
And... I am angry. I am angry that we weren't better prepared. I am angry that this is still a joke to so many. I am angry that, back in March/April/May, people said teachers "needed a raise" but they were the first thing considered for budget cuts. I am angry that teachers were given little to no support (again) and expected to figure it out... and WE DID. Overnight, literally. We did everything we could to support the students we love with whatever support and guidance we could get. And now we are literally being given no real, viable options for the new year for our safety or our students safety. Options vary across the country, but the message is clear, "Get back in the classroom, with fewer resources, and do more". Any "lessons learned" during quarantine are gone it seems and it's "back to business as usual". And that's it isn't it? Business. Teachers have to go back and sacrifice their health and their students' health because business won't support families during this time.
I don't want this post to turn into a rant that is angrier than it already is, so I want to look at a few things that are going to happen. Some are pulled from things I've seen online or things being "offered" to teachers.
- Those masks being given to teachers? I can tell you what we'll do with them. We'll wear them until someone comes into our room who needs one. Someone who is sick. Someone who needs protection. Then, we'll give them our mask.
- Those safety precautions? Those self checks? They'll work until someone is running late for work, gives their child some Tylenol and sends them to school.
- Those self isolation guidelines? Those will work, except... what happens if the schools aren't notified about illness and contamination? Where will we get the subs? I have some sick days built up, but the sick days teachers get every year don't even last for one full quarantine period.
- Buses are NOT going to be staggered, distanced, etc. That means that we are looking at 50+ students being exposed at any given moment on the bus. Those students then go into a room with 30+ others and a teacher. At the high schools, they'll meet 30+ new people in second period, and so on.
- Those "one direction hallways"? They'll work until J needs to talk with Mrs. X or with B. They'll work until Q needs to go to the bathroom, but it's behind them in the hallway. They'll work until the halls bottleneck and all of a sudden the bell rings and students are risking tardies and discipline. And that's NOT the kids fault. But... they'll bear the consequences.
- Those socially distanced, same way facing desks? Those are great... except C needs to fidget and H needs to stim. L needs help reading. Your teachers will have to choose to either let students work without help or break social distancing to help them make progress. That is not a fair position to be put in as a student or a teacher.
- Oh, and all those things you KNOW we'll need to keep the kids safe? Hand sanitiser, gloves, masks, disinfectant spray, extra supplies so students don't share. That will most likely be provided by the teacher themselves, as usual. The difference now is that in some places, budgets are being cut and teachers will get no assistance.
And, on top of all that, many of us will be figuring out how to teach in person AND online, if we go back as planned.
Do I want to go back? Yes. I want to see my kids. I want to teach, to do what I love. That is also what makes this so hard for us teachers. We WANT to be with the kids. We also want the kids to be safe and healthy. We can't teach your students if we are fighting for our lives. We can't support your students if we are stuck behind a glass wall six feet away. It isn't ideal, but we can try and support them online and we have been. I can do more for my kids on a computer and with a camera and my phone then I can wearing a mask, staying 6 feet away, in a classroom. Do I want to... NO! I want to be with your kids. I want to see their faces every day, give them high fives when they have successes, and, yes, I want to be there to listen to their woes and help them through their struggles.... But... Health comes first.
I'll close with this. Everyone should take a look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Before we can meet their academic and creative needs, we must meet their basic needs of safety and health. We are woefully failing as a country right now in doing that. We have to start there.