The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unforeseen challenges for everyone. Ev. Er. Y. One. Medical professionals are overwhelmed. Grocery stores are understaffed as workers fall ill or quit due to horrific treatment from anti-maskers. Delivery workers are managing longer than ever shifts as so many of us now rely on them to bring us what we need while we choose to stay home.
And, of course, there are more burdens placed on teachers—which isn’t new. When statistics come out comparing us to other nations and reveal we are falling behind in education, teachers are held responsible. Each time a school shooting happens, teachers are again reminded that we expect them to hide, shield, and keep terrified children quiet as an armed monster roams the halls. When children come to school hungry, teachers make sure they get fed. When the money runs out and there is no more funding for paper or scissors or crayons, teachers use their own meager paychecks to stock their cabinets.
Our society has undervalued teachers for years, yet we express frustration when other modernized nations pass us by in math, science, and technology. We like to brag about how “great” we are, but we put unfair and unrealistic expectations on these human beings who can get sick, who have their own families to feed and care for as well, and who only have our children in their care for 35 hours per week.
And now, during this pandemic, classrooms need even more money and supplies to keep kids safe. And who are we expecting to foot the bill? Teachers, of course—which is complete bullshit.
To help stop the spread of COVID-19, kids can’t share school supplies anymore. So rather than a classroom having a few sets of math manipulatives or a few sets of scissors that kids can share, every child needs their own pair of scissors, their own set of math manipulatives, their own set of crayons, pencils, and glue sticks. Each child needs their own computer or technological device since they can’t share keyboards or tablets due to germs. Each child needs their own workspace and space for their backpack and coat and spot on the carpet that’s six feet from anyone else.
Obviously this extra expense is a burden that must be shouldered by someone. But expecting it to fall on teachers, since we’ve seen historically that when push comes to shove, most teachers will do anything necessary to meet the needs of their students, is wrong. Expecting teachers to be the ones to buy the extra pencil cases and scissors and technological devices is unfair and truly the last thing overworked and exhausted teachers need right now.
Because not only do teachers have to ensure that all of the tiny hands don’t touch other tiny hands and all the tiny faces keep their masks on and all of the tiny little bodies stay six feet apart all day, but also that their students learn everything they need to learn and pass inane standardized tests while also not sharing rulers or markers or glue or tablets.
So to ask them to buy the extra supplies, or to ask them to buy sanitizer wipes (which no one can get anyway) in order to clean said supplies so that they can be shared, is unacceptable. It is unacceptable to expect teachers who are already on the frontlines of COVID as they stand in front of a room full of potentially contagious kids to spend their own paychecks—paychecks they desperately need in case they fall victim to COVID or their spouse does or their kids do and in case they cannot work for a long period of time and must pay off piles of medical bills. It is unacceptable and one of the many reasons our country has some serious work to do before it can call itself “great again.”
We know bank accounts everywhere are dwindling rapidly, if they aren’t empty already. Parents are struggling financially as their wages and hours have been cut or they were forced to quit work so they could keep their kids home. Unfortunately, school districts have seen so many budget cuts over the years that even before COVID hit, many of their district bank accounts were struggling too. The truth is, our government needs to prioritize education and fund America’s classrooms in a way that ensures teachers’ and students’ needs are being met. But we all know that isn’t happening, at least not in 2020 with this president.
So for now, we need parents who can afford to step up and contribute financially to do so. We need parents who understand that in this new way of pandemic teaching, classrooms need more. Teachers need more. Or else they can’t do it.
We need parents to understand the reality for teachers like Brittany Gonzalez, a special education teacher who teaches in a self-contained classroom of 1st-3rd graders in Lehigh Acres, FL.
For example, when Gonzalez found out her kids would be eating in the classroom this year as a social-distancing measure, she immediately knew she’d need more supplies.
“She started crowdfunding projects for silicone placemats that she could clean easily, and drying racks to store them and students’ water bottles, which would need to be washed every day,” Education Week reports. “She also wants to buy individually wrapped snacks for easier distribution and lunchboxes for students who may be bringing their food from home for the first time.”
Because likely, she, like most teachers, cannot ask her district for these items. School funds are maxed out and over budget already, due to everything they needed to do and buy to prepare for a safe return for students.
According to Education Week, “When it comes to health and safety supplies—hand sanitizer, face masks, thermometers—districts are making bulk purchases to distribute across schools. AASA, the School Superintendents Association, estimates that altogether, school districts will spend almost $25 billion on personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies this fall.”
25 billion dollars. And it’s not enough.
Christy Clark, another FL teacher who teaches high school English in Manatee County, says that even though her district told her they’d provide cleaning materials and hand sanitizer for the classroom, she’s still stocking up.
“I cannot always rely on things getting to me when I need them. It’s a supply chain issue at this point,” Clark says. “We all know that there’s been a shortage of sanitizer and cleaning products.”
As a teacher in America, Christy Clark has always bought some of her own classroom supplies. This year, sanitizers and cleaners were added to this list. She’s accepted this reality, saying, “It’s par for the course for teachers.”
And those who teach virtually aren’t getting a free pass, by the way. Not even close. Imagine having to take your entire classroom home with you so you could teach social studies or music from your living room. You need adequate technology in order to reach all of your students. Plus, if you have your own kids at home, you need to ensure that they have the technology they need to communicate with their teachers.
As reported by Education Week, a survey of teachers taken in June revealed that 74 percent of teachers said they bought home printing gear for distance learning with their own money, and 41 percent said they purchased mailing supplies to send materials to students. More than a third also bought new technology for their own homes.
Because remember, teachers are preparing for two very different scenarios this year—both in person and online instruction. Even if their districts are opening now or in the near future (which necessitates an endless list of cleaning supplies, masks, desk barriers and shields, hand sanitizers and extra school supplies), they also much prepare for an abrupt switch to virtual learning (which will require all the materials and technology they’ll need at home).
Courtney Jones, and elementary school teacher from Houston founded the #clearthelist movement and now the Clear the List Foundation, which helps teachers formulate wish lists for what they need and then provide opportunities for those who can help to do so.
The Today Show reports that some of the wish lists teachers created include new technology, like “document cameras so teachers can record their lessons,” PPE equipment including masks, or materials teachers can use to create barriers within their classrooms like shower curtains or cardboard. Some teachers thought ahead and knew their young students would lose their masks easily, so they requested lanyards for children to clip their masks to their shirts.
Another request was from a secondary math and science teacher, who applied for a grant for $500 worth of pencils, Jones shared.
But when asked where she sees her foundation in five years, this teacher was blunt. “Hopefully, it will be completely irrelevant,” she says. “I hope we don’t need this movement anymore… I don’t want to grow this into a huge organization. I hope this doesn’t have to be a thing.”
Because that’s the thing—although movements like #clearthelist are wonderful for teachers, the truth is that whatever doesn’t get gifted from those wishlists will get purchased using teachers’ paychecks.
At what point do we say “enough?” At what point will we actually start paying teachers the way we pay other professionals with undergrad and graduate degrees? At what point will we truly fund the classrooms where we expect educators to teach our children to read, write, add, subtract, be kind… where we expect them to help our kids wash their hands, zip their coats, open their snack bags, tie their shoes… where we assume they’ll herd our innocent babies to safety and bar the door from a shooter, but also remind them to mask up and sanitize them every hour and ensure they don’t accidentally share a damn pencil?
When will we finally say we got you, teachers. You don’t have to worry about paying your electric bill or sending your own child to camp because you spent so much of your income on Goldfish crackers and Clorox wipes for your classroom and plastic shields for your students’ desks?
We all need to step the fuck up for teachers in this country. All of us. Parents. Legislators—local and national. School board members. The Secretary of Education. We need to remind ourselves of what we ask of them every day. What we expect them to manage every day.
If we can afford takeout or a vacation or daily Starbucks runs, we can afford to help our children’s teachers by throwing some extra tissues or sanitizers or scissors or tablet chargers in their backpacks—with a “thank you for all you do” note to let that exhausted professional on the receiving end know that they are appreciated.
Because seriously, imagine our country without them.
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