A Teacher's Open Letter To Everyone Pushing To Reopen Schools
After 12 years in public education, I am as tired as a teacher can be of advocating on behalf of my students to no avail, and consequently, exploiting and sacrificing myself to compensate for the shortcomings of our educational system. Let me explain.
During a school safety training, I’ve been told that I should purchase a $99 tourniquet kit with my own money to keep in my classroom in case of a school shooting. “You may want to buy more than one in case multiple students in your room are shot.”
When I learned that our school plan during an active shooting was to evacuate students from the library and computer lab and have them run over a mile down the highway access road to a car dealership, I tried to advocate for our students and staff with injuries or disabilities. I was told I was “underestimating” my students and my own child and “they could run if they have to.”
I was required to complete a 90-hour STEM certification course last year, on my own time, without compensation. Every year, during those “summers off” teachers are required to complete weeks of professional learning classes- without compensation. This past year, in order to prep for the coming week, I regularly stayed at school until 8 PM on Fridays, and then returned on Saturday or Sunday and put in an additional four to eight hours of work. Even then, class data charts, goal boards, and student data forms were rarely kept up-to-date as required.
Every school year, teachers spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars of their own money meeting students’ basic needs — buying furniture for the classroom, school supplies, snacks for kids who are out of lunch money or didn’t eat dinner the night before, jackets for kids who don’t have one, or going in with other teachers to offset extracurricular fees for kids who can’t afford them.
Last year, teachers at my school regularly (meaning multiple times per month) gave up their 45 minute planning time during the day to cover other teachers’ classrooms because we didn’t have subs. If we did this more than twice in a month, it was without compensation because reimbursement is capped at two class periods. I, and many teachers at my school, skip lunch or work through our lunch break on a daily basis to tutor kids in our classrooms who cannot do before or after school tutorials. Every year, I watch my students work their tails off, often through tears, to achieve mastery of objectives that are developmentally inappropriate, stress over standardized tests, and then receive a piece of paper stamped with “DID NOT MEET” because you know what?? That eighth grade science STAAR test is written at an eleventh to twelfth grade reading level. That seventh grade math STAAR test is full of confusing wording and diagrams and questions so poorly written that highly certified teachers with advanced degrees have to confer to figure out what some questions are even asking.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a proud product of my school district and I love my job, but our public education system is broken. Really, really broken. And instead of fixing it, the powers that be throw billions at testing companies who pad their pockets under the table. Or blame teachers for “giving up” (I’m looking at YOU, Betsy DeVos). Or blame our low-performing students instead of addressing the systemic issues that widen the performance gap instead of closing it.
And because as teachers we would do ANYTHING for our kids, instead of standing up for ourselves (which has long proven to be insurmountable and ineffective), every year we do “a little more,” sacrifice “a little more,” exploit ourselves at the expense of our health and our families “a little more.”
And now, as our Texas Education Agency sits comfortably behind laptops in their own homes until at least January, they’re asking us to slap on a mask and skip back into our school buildings to return to business as usual.
If this is really what happens, guaranteed I will spend my own money on face masks, hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes for my students. If I have to buy my students school supplies in a regular school year, why would I expect anything different this year?
Guaranteed, one or more of my coworkers or I will get sick. And we’ll have to use our hard-earned sick leave (that I’m still trying to recoup after having to burn it all on my half-paid maternity leave two years ago). Who knows if our schools will follow quarantine protocol, or if we’ll sweep it under the rug and continue “business as usual” pretending others aren’t sick or at risk.
Guaranteed, kids will get sick. Have you ever been to the funeral of your 12-year-old student? I have. I don’t ever want to do it again. Don’t think our kids are at risk? Ask our school nurse how many hundreds of asthma inhalers she has in her office, and how many diabetic or epileptic students we have.
If you think teachers are only looking out for ourselves, you’re part of the problem. Even the most supportive community members have absolutely NO IDEA what we sacrifice for your child— our children. And also, ISN’T IT ABOUT TIME THAT WE AT LEAST CONSIDER OURSELVES IN THESE CONVERSATIONS??? But that argument doesn’t hold water, because teachers don’t matter, so let’s get back to the facts:
-Quality learning cannot take place with constant interruptions.
-Quality learning cannot take place when basic needs for safety and security cannot be met.
-Quality learning cannot take place without funding and leadership.
-Quality learning cannot take place when our leadership blames the only entity keeping the system afloat.
-Students need a safe place to learn. Families rely on our school system to provide that safe place.
-Students who are able to safely learn at home should be able to safely learn at home.
-Students who need the safety of a school building should be able to return to the SAFETY of a school building.
Can we not provide a space for small group, computer-based instruction during a shortened school day? Can we not allow teachers with health risks or who have family members with health risks work from home, while others volunteer to return and oversee small group computer instruction?
Can we not stop bullying, and threatening to remove resources, and restricting innovation, and instead support our professional educators and allow THEM to make decisions that are in the best interest of their students and teachers?
There are solutions. Lots of them. And there are thousands of really smart educators who are more than willing to create and implement those solutions, if trusted to do so.
Teachers spend their own money on tourniquet kits.
In the middle of a global pandemic while you’re propped up in your bed hiding behind your laptop, don’t you dare tell me to slap on a mask and return to business as usual.
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