Saturday, July 11, 2020

Politics Over People During a Pandemic

I have been angry since May. Strike that. I have been in a rage. I have watched the nation politicize the health and well-being of its citizens, politicize equal rights, and I reached a boiling point and have stayed there. I could possibly write a book over all of my feelings at this point, but for the purposes of this post I am going to focus on one topic: the rising numbers of infected people and the opening of schools.

My feelings on this matter are simple. Opening schools amid rising infection rates is a guaranteed death sentence. Some teachers will die. Some support staff will die. Worst of all, some students will die. Some teachers and staff and students will be infected and survive but have debilitating after-effects; coronavirus attacks the lungs, heart, brain, and immune system. Nick Cordero, the Broadway star whom Covid recently killed after a three month battle, had already lost a leg due to the virus before he died. Corona isn't the Spanish Flu. Corona is Polio. Even survival doesn't mean full recovery--it can mean a lifetime of disability.

And I lay these results at your feet, decision makers. School boards. State education boards. Anyone who could be stepping in--should be stepping in--to stop schools from opening, but would prefer to play politics and please both sides. Sometimes there aren't two sides. This is murder. Every life lost because you would rather please the people than make the right decision will be your fault. Every child hospitalized will owe their isolation and terror to you.

But that is not all I lay at your feet. Trauma and anxiety, the fear of attending school and bringing this epidemic back home to vulnerable siblings, parents, grandparents, I also lay at your feet. If a student infects their immuno-compromised mother, brother, grandfather, the student suffers a traumatic event. Are you prepared to provide the counseling students, teachers, and staff will need? Every aspect of school will remind students that they are in danger, every section of school will be regimented.

Inequitable access is your fault, too. Instead of insisting we return to school when the danger is so obvious, this time could be spent solving the problem of access for all. Funneling money towards 1:1 devices instead of new desk dividers. Devising an action plan for contacting and even visiting and equipping households with less engagement last year to make sure they have the tools and knowledge they need to be successful this year. When we inevitably revert to online classes due to opening schools too soon and the deaths that will be soon to follow, you will have provided no help to those families and they will be in the same place they were before.

Finally, when we revert, since it will again be sudden, teachers will again be forced to change modes suddenly, and lesson plans will have to adjust suddenly, instead of being planned meticulously for an online curriculum, which would be the ideal. You could allow teachers a month or more of real preparation for online teaching and quality instruction, but instead you are choosing to put us in the same position that befell us in March--except in March no one could blame you. This time you are choosing it.

Decision makers, school boards, state boards, national boards. You are choosing poor instruction. You are providing inequitable access. You are causing mental trauma. And you are killing people. Don't open schools because you choose politics over people during a pandemic.

A pandemic shouldn't be political.

It's that simple.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Covid 19 and Me: A Reflection

Where do I start with this? Right now it is cool for a summer evening on account of the storms that are rolling through. The sun is setting within an hour and I am sitting at my computer with a bottle of water playing video games and writing this post. I have dogs at my feet and cats in the cat tree behind me. Sounds like an excellent evening. And yet, I am terrified. 

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.