What I know now: people close to me, and people who are friends of friends, know that returning to in-person school would endanger my life. And my mother’s life. And my cousin’s life. And all my other teacher friends.
And they don’t care.
I don’t know how to live with this knowledge.
I say I’m scared for my mother’s life, and people say, “But the economy!”
Many, many of my friends are teachers, and I imagine each of them falling ill while people say, “Parents have to go back to work!”
I went to my first protest about this yesterday.
Someone had a sign that said, “Teachers are not sacrificial lambs.”
We were standing outside the district office, wearing our masks, holding our signs, and people inside were deciding if to keep our jobs, we had to risk our lives,.
I don’t need anyone to canonize me for being a teacher. I just need them to act as if my life is meaningful. A meaningful life is often the most valuable thing teachers own. It’s the only valuable thing I own.
I’m not a martyr. Never had been. The God I believe in wants people to treat me with respect.
I want to keep teaching, but here’s what echoes in my head….
-An administrator refused to let me have access to books I had ordered with grant money I had helped win. My classroom would be too “cluttered,” she said.
-In a staff meeting, the principal told us that “everyone cheats,” so we shouldn’t address students who cheated on tests.
In another staff meeting, the school secretary stood in front of the teachers and read off how many students had As, Bs, Cs, etc. Then she berated us for “giving” the students such low grades.
Principal told me that it seemed like I “didn’t care,” though I was quite busy setting up field trips and poetry readings and learning to teach AP.
A dear friend of mine had a student who screamed at her that she was a “cunt,” and repeatedly asked her about her sex life.
She was advised to build a relationship with him.
I had a student who would climb up on a desk and just scream.
I sat outside principal’s office trying to breathe and not run away, trying to convince myself that the nasty things she said were not things I should take to heart.
At the dysfunctional school where I briefly taught, kids threw things and yelled and refused to do anything. I finally had a student threaten to physically attack me, and after pushing the paperwork through again and again, the student was briefly, briefly suspended.
How I felt didn’t matter. At all.
I started having panic attacks at school.
I couldn’t eat.
One day I found that I had literally locked myself in a closet to eat my lunch because the principal was trying to force me to do extra duties that went against our contract. What was I doing?
I had a “coach,” and after she had earned my trust, I went to her because the school was out of paper, and refused to provide any more. I did not have textbooks for my class, and students did not have computers, so handouts were all we had.
My coach said, “Well, that’s just how it is in education.”
I never spoke to her again.
I’ve taught in classrooms with bullet holes in the windows.
I’ve had to keep furniture in my room that was splintered and tore people’s clothes because otherwise we’d have nowhere to sit.
When you speak of masks and sanitizing and distancing, I remember that at every school, I regularly found the bathrooms to be out of soap and/or paper towels.
Even if masks and distancing made it safe, teachers aren’t getting those things.
If we can’t get all of our American governors to wear masks, we sure as hell aren’t going to get students to wear them.
I love the shit out of teaching. I really love it. I had experience disciplining students, and experience teaching in an engaging way.
I get excited about how to structure our activities, how much background information is necessary, how to include ethical questions in everything, and logical reasoning in everything. Finding texts that are perfect for students.
I love figuring out how to make people feel safe, how to listen to them, how to increase their confidence. I love to appreciate every new, weird story that each unique student brings.
When I see my former students, on social media, running their own businesses, protesting for Black Lives Matter, getting themselves through college, thoughtfully choosing schools for their own kids, I am so glad. I’m so proud of them.
Once I was out and about, and a former student who had boldly failed my class and dropped out of school saw me, yelled out, and ran to hug me. “How is your fish?” he asked me. He had given me a heater for my betta.
Teaching is amazing work.
But I am not expendable.
I do not deserve to be verbally abused at work.
I do not deserve to be physically threatened at work.
I deserve to be able to contact another adult if a student gets violent or there is an emergency. (Everywhere I have worked, this was only sometimes possible.)
There is enough money in the United States of America to build and maintain schools.
There is enough money to pay teachers a salary comparable to other professionals.
We are not fucking idiots.
There is money for other things.
My mother is a para. She works with kids who sometimes kick her and scream and throw things and run away from school and spit. For this they pay her $13.78 an hour during the school year.
On snow days, she makes nothing.
Snow days stress her out.
I know now that many Americans are fine with her dying as a result of her job.
Including the president of the United States, of course.
We are busy discussing how students will get “behind,” and how parents have to work.
Teachers die, we find other suckers to be teachers.
I don’t want to live in this America.
I want to somehow forget.
I want to remove from my mind, surgically, article after article discussing the dangers to children, as if the adults who work in schools do not exist. No, worse: they exist, but their lives are cheap.
I don’t want anyone to be punished or anything to be fixed in any particular way.
I want to forget how cruel people can be.
Or maybe more realistically: I want everyone who works in a school to quit before they are made to put themselves in harm’s way.
We have already lost too much.
Teaching is great, but it isn’t worth your life.
Set an example for our students.
This is the final call from America: can we push our teachers to risk their health and lives for our convenience?
We must answer.