I’m a 20-year veteran teacher. I’ve taught middle school and elementary school, I’ve seen cell phones turn to smartphones, overheads turn into doc cams turn into smart boards, and textbooks turn into Chromebooks. I’ve taught over 3,000 students, and a large chunk of them are now parents in their mid-thirties.
I’m also an only parent to a wonderful kid who came into my life by unexpected adoption when he was born almost seven years ago.
I have an autoimmune condition. It doesn’t really affect me most days, but it’s there and no one knows if it could be a risk factor yet.
My 68-year-old mom is my hero: she let me move in with her when my son was a reflux-y newborn. She helped me financially so I could have a longer adoption leave, and she has babysat him 2-3 days a week for the past six school years for free.
And now, school is starting in four weeks.
I still don’t know what’s going on, in either my son’s school district or the one in which I teach. I don’t know if there will be before and after care available for my son. I don’t know how many days a week he would be expected to go to school. I don’t know what my schedule will look like.
So where would my son go before and after school and on the homeschool days, if there’s a hybrid schedule? Of course, my mother volunteered. She always does; bless her.
But I’m not ready to send my son, after he’s been exposed to germs all day, to my mom. I’m not ready to expose myself to germs, expose my child to those germs, and expose my mom to both of our germs. I’m not ready to share my school’s germs with my son’s teachers, indirectly. There are too many avenues for disease, and no one’s going to come out a winner.
So, I put in for a leave of absence. That’s one year without the medical and dental insurance I’ve had for 20 years, one year without a salary to pay my mortgage, and one year without a job that feels like at least three quarters of my identity.
Who am I? I’m a teacher. What do I do? I teach. I stepped out of college at age 22, and since then I’ve worked every year, gone to conferences almost every summer, rewritten curriculum, and sat through countless staff meetings.
I’ve mopped up tears, blood, barf; I’ve comforted break-ups, listened to stories of abuse, death and drugs. I’ve cried with my students when someone died, when a family member went to jail, or when kids became homeless.
I am a Teacher.
But as much as I love my job, I cannot put my mother, my child, and myself in danger for it. And I’m willing to go for a year without a salary because I believe that going back right now would not be the best decision for me and my family. I believe that if I, as a teacher, want to be kept safe, then I am responsible for keeping my son home to keep his teachers safe. Because I can.
I am lucky: I saved up just enough money that I can squeak by for a year. I have the option, I have my mom’s support, and I have the blessing that I can have my job back next year.
Yes, I get it: kids probably won’t get very sick from COVID-19. However, the 60 to 100 adults that work in my child’s building may. Teachers won’t be able to hug your child when he cries, run over to him if he falls down, or give him a pat on the back when he looks sad.
76% of teachers are women. And it is estimated that 78% of the people with autoimmune diseases in the United States are also women. Many teachers are obese, are older, have had cancer treatments, have hypertension and cardiac problems, or, sometimes, they’re just older.
It’s weird not being a teacher this year. I feel like I’ve been stripped of my identity. But I’m also a mom and a daughter, and this is the best I could do with what I have.
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