We Must Protect Our Teachers

I’ve stayed quiet. 

I have watched numerous meetings for hours on end with no real conclusion in sight, I have seen the news contradict and divide, I have seen resources my students desperately need taken from them. I have seen teachers not asked for their opinion but instead mocked for their fear of returning to school. I have stayed quiet- and while this virus and pandemic’s root was out of our control, how we handle it as Americans is not. 

It isn’t news that there is a certain type of personality associated with teaching. Teachers are usually sacrificial, selfless, and giving. They are full of affection, patient and would do almost anything for the ones they love, especially their students. However, one of the noblest yet cursed traits most associated with teachers is indeed, protectiveness. In fact, I have never met a more protective breed of human beings than teachers. 

I have seen teachers defend and protect the quiet students and the most difficult students. I have seen teachers protect another person’s child, and I have seen teachers protect students from wronged discipline. I have seen teachers make home visits due to neglect, and I have seen them take students into their own homes for safety and support.  I have seen teachers feed and take care of children that are not theirs, and every semester, I see teachers willing to step in front of a bullet for their students during lockdown drills. 

This is not new information, nor should it be. There is a reason we have a teacher shortage, and this kind of mentality is a part of it. You must live passionately for your students, there’s no way around it. 

However, because we know this, it has been taken advantage of. Teachers and administrators protect their students day in and day out, and that never stopped through the pandemic. One of the hardest things to do during this time was to not have contact and to not say goodbye to our kids. We protect as a part of our job, and this time, we are being asked to do more than we are physically, mentally, and emotionally capable of. 

I have been forgiving, we have been forgiving, and we have shown grace and abundant flexibility while dealing with COVID-19. We were thrown into virtual learning with no end in sight, we adapted and spent hours teaching each other, guiding each other and consistently worrying about the students that never showed up through the screen. It was also then that a surge of appreciation happened for teachers. Parents and communities were reminded just how many resources were provided through schools. Teachers do not just provide an education; They provide structure, counseling, patience,  support, and a moral compass. Schools provide nourishment, warmth, running water, and not to mention resources for a better future: clubs, a place of belonging, and guidance. Schools are so much more than just a place to drop your child off when you go to work. Schools are students´ second homes and educators are your teammates- you will not find anyone that will advocate more for your child. With that being said, we are completely aware of the resources lacking during this time. But if we go back, things will not return to normal, and the return could possibly be detrimental to education as a whole.

There are so many questions still left unanswered due to the uncertainty of the virus´s waves, but as of now- we already know there will be academic gaps. In fact, it has been, for some reason, the one thing we have been focused on as a country. Due to this, I can already tell you that teachers will be working harder and pushed into compliance more than ever. There will be mandated tutorials, late nights, Saturday school, and intercession tutorials. Stress is already prevalent without a pandemic in a teacher’s life, but with the amount of pressure associated with testing and gaps, the stress will be insane- and you know what weakens the immune system more than anything? Stress. 

Combine that with rotating one hundred and twenty children with different households in a classroom that do not (God love em’) know how to social distance and wear a mask correctly, exposure is inevitable. It is the perfect recipe for disaster. 

You would think with this kind of plan, we would be safely prepared- but the truth of the matter is we do not have the resources to protect our teachers for this kind of exposure, we barely have funds for supplies and stable school buildings. Teachers will not only spend their energy teaching the children with gaps in their education, but they will be spending their own money on sanitizer, Clorox wipes, and masks. Not to mention, If a teacher is exposed and has to be quarantined for two weeks, where on earth are we getting the substitutes completely willing to take their place? I do not see them lined up at the door without a pandemic, and teacher coverage (teachers covering another class without a sub during their conference to grade, lesson plan, and PLC) is just another way teachers will be stretched to their limits.

This is the tip of the iceberg. One of my dear friends did the math; there are about 321,000 teachers in Texas and a mortality rate of 1.29. That’s roughly 500 teachers that pass away from COVID-19. Do we want to do the same math for the students? Because I do not think I can bear it. Not to mention, are we prepared for the trauma that could take place if a teacher dies from this virus? Are we prepared for the heartbreak of losing a student? We can always close the gaps, however, we can never bring back a human life. 

As of right now, students have the option to come to campus or to do virtual learning. Educators, however, do not, and we are terrified. We were given a non- negotiable return, and campuses that do not open could possibly lose funding. We were first told to come back but were not protected with any safety measures. We initially were told that when we do return, we would have a month worth of masks. One month. How was teacher´s safety not the first thing they thought about? We are being put on the front line with nothing to fight back with.

With all of this to consider, how we react to this approach means everything. And as a society, how we protect educators says everything about what we prioritize. We all have a voice, if you choose to send your child back to school (which I know is not optional for some), please consider how important it is to reiterate safety. Practice it at home, speak with your employer, write to our lawmakers, vote and prioritize teachers´ needs- prioritize the caretakers that would protect your children in a state of emergency.   We must take it upon ourselves to educate our children and others about what is at risk when we make a decision to return to school. Because when you see a teacher complaining on a social media platform or on the news, they are not thinking of themselves. Their voices are attempting to give an idea of what it is like every day in a school building, they are trying to give everyone a warning. 

Please, protect our teachers, because when they do not want to return, it is not because they do not want to see your children, it’s because they are protecting your children once again and truly, want everyone safe.

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