OP-ED: ‘TIL DEATH DO US PART – Being a Teacher in 2020

‘TIL DEATH DO US PART

Being a Teacher in 2020

By Tiffany Crow 

A Shelby County Schools teacher, parent, and a COVID survivor.

She wrote this letter to share her experience.

            As schools across the nation prepare for the upcoming school year (whether it be in person, hybrid, or completely virtual) teachers and families are writhing in agony with a sense of impending doom. One minute, we hear from superintendents and elected officials that we will be following data and “science” in efforts to plan for the upcoming year, and the next, we are being threatened with reduced funding and told that we will be going back to school buildings, in person, regardless of climbing case numbers, increasing death rates, and individuals being left with lifelong residual health issues from a virus that we still know so little about.

The decision facing parents is certainly a difficult one, but I must ask you… What about the TEACHERS?

What about the teachers who have historically spent all of their own extra time and money to make up for deficits in funding and staffing capacity?

What about the teacher who has cancer, and will now be asked to enter into the world’s largest experimental petri-dish of infection?

What about the teacher who has a child at home awaiting an organ transplant, in a one income household?

What about all of the teachers who will get sick and experience lifelong health complications, financial ruin due to excessive absence, or death?

Have we really convinced ourselves that these people don’t matter?

What about teachers like myself, a Covid-19 “survivor?”

Did I survive Covid-19? Yes, I did survive, but I, a previously healthy 27 year old, am now faced with what could be lifelong and possibly debilitating health issues. I have been “well” for quite some time now, yet I am not “well.” Plagued with daily fatigue, muscle weakness, rashes, heart rate fluctuations, chronic head and neck pain, insomnia, PTSD, digestive issues, and cognitive/memory issues. I am still unsure just how extensive or lasting these issues will be, but now that I am two months out from having a “mild” case of Covid-19, I am STILL facing these health complications.

For me, medical bills are piling up in a year with no teacher raises, no improvement in benefits, and no known salary schedule. It seems the only thing that has increased is the risk and demand for teachers.

Teachers across the nation are preparing for the worst. We are finalizing wills, upping our disability insurance, and maxing out on life insurance benefits. Many teachers are already purchasing PPE, cleaning products, plexiglass dividers, and other band-aid solutions to the astronomical catastrophe that awaits upon school re-entry.

Is virtual instruction anyone’s first choice, during normal circumstances? Most of us would say “NO!” I, too, believe there is no replacement for in person schooling, but I disagree with people who say virtual instruction cannot be valuable. I taught virtual summer school, and found it to be quite similar in strength and weakness to in person schooling. The advantages were great, however. My students were able to become true 21st century learners, and I was able to become a true 21st century teacher. I learned valuable tools that will work with virtual instruction, but will also be highly effective and enriching when we do return to “normal.” I was able to build community with students and parents, and my students were able to develop a sense of intrinsic motivation that I had not seen at large during the regular school year.

What began as a stressful virtual experience, ended with both student and teacher growth. I urge people to understand that planned virtual instruction is completely different from the patchwork crisis schooling that was offered last spring.

While I understand the need for schools to be open for working families, I respectfully ask that you remember that schools were never meant to serve as free childcare. Teachers are not trained or educated to serve as babysitters. We are also not trained or educated to serve as healthcare professionals or nurses. The bulk of our training and coursework centers around providing a service.

Although teachers and schools, for decades, have offered a variety of services outside of the realm of the service we actually offer (education), we have finally met our match with the coronavirus pandemic. This is a problem that may be beyond our efforts to “fix,” as teachers have done for so long. I certainly do not have the answers to solve the ills of a capitalist-obsessed society, but I want to be clear that the service we provide CAN and SHOULD be offered remotely until it is safe to physically enter school buildings.

The current state of our existence is filled with unrest, anxiety, sadness, and pain. I, too, wish that we could press a magic button and return to “normal,” but the reality is that we can’t, not for some time, anyway. What and who are we willing to risk in an effort to re-enter schools in person? How many deaths are acceptable? How many people, like me, who will live with health issues for the foreseeable future is acceptable? Does your fear of an educational setback outweigh my fear for my life?

For once, teachers are voicing hesitation, frustration, and fear, instead of just coming up with a self-sacrificing solution to the problem, and society is appalled. For once, we are begging to be able to put our own family and health first, and the backlash has been intense. Our passion is being weaponized, we are being accused of not caring about children, or not being flexible enough, or even being lazy and unwilling to work. How soon we forget the “backbone” of our society, along with all of the good work we have done. Teachers are strong, resilient, and creative, but this is one situation I don’t think we can “Donors Choose” our way out of.

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