1. My Role and Insight as an Online Teacher During the Pandemic.
I recognize that during this time I am privileged to be teaching in a virtual school. This means that while I am not untouched, my day-to-day and my personal concerns have changed very little compared to others when it comes to work. My biggest changes as a teacher are dealing with my kids being home while I'm working, our face-to-face school field trips and professional development being cancelled, and and an extra emphasis on supporting the mental health of my students as well as my own. I'm very thankful to to get to work where I do, and I'm happy to help those teaching online for the first time, even if it's not your cup of tea for the long haul. Let us as teachers support each other no matter how and where we are teaching! While online school can absolutely be done effectively while making meaningful connections, it's not what works best for everyone and that's okay. And keep in mind that being forced into a different kind of schooling during a crisis is not the same thing as choosing a different kind of schooling and going in prepared. Normal schooling from home, whether a virtual school or traditional homeschool, has never inherently meant social isolation and we are all dealing with things we've never dealt with before. Realize that this time isn't an accurate picture of schooling from home and be kind to yourselves. My heart genuinely goes out to the brick and mortar teachers who are feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, scared, and disrespected. I applaud your bravery whether you are jumping into a new way of teaching, leaving a job you loved because you didn't feel safe or valued, or are showing up for work despite all the unknowns and anxiety.
2. A Plea to Parents Reacting to Back-To-School Plans
Parents, please be respectful to those making the tough decisions for your school. It is certainly a position I don't envy, and there is no easy answer that will make everyone happy. If you are happy with the plan there is going to be another parent who is mad about it and vice versa. Assume positive intent - that they are trying to do what is best everyone with the information that they have, even if you don't personally agree. Be kind and respectful to each other too. A parent choosing the home option doesn't mean they are living in fear, and a parent sending their kids to school doesn't mean they are reckless and don't care about people getting sick.
Most teachers and school staff had no say in the decisions that were made. Be nice and make their jobs easier and more pleasant, not harder and more stressful. If you are going back in person respect the rules and guidelines that the school is asking you to follow. Teaching was already shown to be one of the most stressful jobs in the country before the pandemic, and now we are being asked to do more with less at a whole new level. While the CDC guidelines may be scientifically researched for the best way to reduce spread, most teachers, whether they agree with those guidelines or not, are wondering if anyone at the CDC has ever set foot in a school. I'm not sure where they think schools are going to find all this extra space to create more classrooms, or how we are going to keep students even 3 feet part in classes that were already overcrowded before the pandemic. Teachers have to depend on parents to donate school supplies and consistently pay for them out of their own pocket during normal years, and now schools have to provide extra sanitation and health supplies for in person learning as well as remote learning programs and wi-fi hotspots for students at home on reduced budgets. These are things that are issues even in what are considered high quality, well-funded districts. A teacher expressing concern over the upcoming school year in no way makes them a bad or lazy teacher, (trust me, teaching online is real teaching and it takes a lot of work!), or changes how much they truly care about your children. If we didn't care about our students we couldn't survive in this career. Remember that teachers are people too, and once again, let's all assume positive intent so we can work with each other, not against each other.
Please don't use your intent to school from home as a threat to get what you want or as a jab at your school district's decisions. If you are choosing not to go back in person yet with the decisions that were made, be thankful that your school is offering a remote option for you to accommodate that or that you have the privilege to school from home a different way - not everyone is in a position where they can truly make this choice. My husband and I are viewing our decision to keep the kids home for at least the first semester as a way of actually helping our school. Since we can facilitate a good education in a healthy environment at home, doing so will make it easier for teachers to follow all the guidelines and they can better support the students who truly do need to be there in the safest way possible. If you've decided something different, that's okay. This is just what we are doing and the way we are looking at. Do what is best for your family, just please be respectful of others while you do it.
3. The "Parents Need to Work" Argument
I'm not a public health expert and I don't have the answers on when and how schools should reopen, but "schools need to re-open so parents can work and support the economy" is a terrible argument - stop making it. This argument disrespects the fact that teachers are highly educated professionals by equating us to babysitters. This is especially frustrating as being treated as the professionals we are has been an uphill battle long before the pandemic. It feels like any hope in this area that was brought on by all the appreciation in the spring is now being thoroughly dashed. Don't get me wrong, being able to work and support oneself and one's family is not just important, its a basic right and its vital. However, it is not schools that need to bend over backward to accommodate business, it is businesses that need to accommodate and support their employees who are parents. Employers should have systems in place that allow parents to continue supporting their family while still being able to choose the education option that's best for them, including remote learning. The "I have to send my kid to school because I can't afford to miss work" issue is a problem that causes parents to send sick kids to school. It happens all the time. We need to to fix the the things that put parents in this position in the first place, not use it as reason that schools must open. Choosing the schooling that is best for one's kids and keeping them home when they're sick, pandemic or not, should not be a privilege set aside for the affluent and, let me say it again for the people in the back, teachers are educators, not babysitters. At the end of the day it is not business or even school that is the foundation of a thriving, healthy society, it's families. This argument only shows that our priorities are out of order.
4. My Hopes
All these things understandably can be quite disheartening, but I am hopeful that by this crisis showing some of the cracks in our education system that we can begin to repair them. That we can more fully recognize parents as the first and primary educators of their children, that we as teachers are here to help parents with the task of education, not replace the role of parents in kids' lives. That we can provide more, and better opportunities for choice in education so families from any background in any location are free to choose what works best for their children. As important and impactful as education is, that we can see that some of the problems we face as a society have deeper roots than what can be addressed by schools alone and act accordingly. That we can realize that high stakes testing does not improve education or give an accurate picture of student learning and stop pushing young kids so hard with standards and expectations that are not developmentally appropriate. (I assure you there was not a single teacher who was upset that state testing was cancelled!) That in the long run this will help us move towards respecting and compensating teachers on a level on par with our fellow professionals with the same level of education in other fields. That maybe one day we will look back in disbelief at some of the things we used to do.