Yes, Teachers Can Do Anything -- But Should We Have To?

by Jen Ferguson
Originally Published: 
Teacher looking in books with children
Scary Mommy and Klaus Vedfelt/Getty

Beyond the joys of being a mother, teaching is the most fulfilling thing I have ever done in my life.

Beyond the demands of being a mother, teaching is the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life.

There is so much that is special about educating children.

Watching them grow.

Helping them learn.

Guiding them toward independence.

Seeing them smile.

Nurturing their development.

Developing their skills.

Contributing to their happiness.

Fostering their success.

Learning from them.

Keeping them safe.

All of these are what make teaching the rewarding profession that it is but, in recent years, that last one has become of increasing importance.

Education is a mix of knowledge, experience and, to be fair, a little bit of magic.

Educating children has always involved doing a whole lot with very little.

We create and implement fun, dynamic, challenging, differentiated, hands-on activities, lessons and units, often without the training, resources, curriculum, or support necessary to do so.

And we do it because, if you haven’t noticed, teachers can do anything.

Educating children has come to involve many facets of broader societal issues.

We are asked to be culturally responsive and trauma-sensitive. We are tasked with identifying and coping with violence, abuse, hunger, poverty, and neglect. We act as nurses, counselors, parents, confidants, cheerleaders, and mentors.

And we do it because, if you haven’t noticed, teachers can do anything.

Educating children now involves a higher level of risk than ever before.

We prepare for fires, attacks, shootings, illnesses, and now pandemics. We distribute blueprints and plans to local police departments, perform schoolwide drills, and actively think about where we would hide our kids if someone started shooting.

And we do it because, if you haven’t noticed, teachers can do anything.

Teachers can do anything, including teaching during COVID.

But should we have to? Especially when there are safer alternatives?


Teaching is morning meeting, breakfast in bean bag chairs, building obstacle courses.

Teaching is sharing materials, giving high fives, going for walks when someone’s having a bad day.

Teaching is small group instruction, one-on-one intervention, whole class discussion.

Teaching is assemblies and field trips and class parties.

Teaching is dynamic, multisensory, differentiated, collaborative, inspiring, and fun.

But returning to school before it is safe will be none of these things.

It will not be teaching. At least not how teachers view teaching and, I assume, what parents think teaching should look like.

It will be masks, and six feet, and temperature checks.

It will be dividers, and face shields, and classroom lunches.

It will be one-way hallways, and modified schedules, and computer-based learning.

It will be boring, and bleak, and uncomfortable, and scary.

It will be babysitting for the sake of politics and economics at the expense of health and safety.

It will put everyone at risk whether we choose to believe it or not.

The plans have holes. The holes have holes.

There’s no way to know if any of these plans will work, and this is an issue of life and death.

Is this amount of risk truly in the best interest of the children?

Think of it this way:

If a blizzard ripped through town and dropped six feet of snow overnight, schools would be closed. For everyone’s safety.

But what if the school gave you the option to send your child in?

The roads may be partially cleared. The bus driver may have been trained to drive under these conditions. The bus may have snow tires. Your child has boots, gloves, scarf, hat, and coat.

All necessary safety precautions have been taken.

Do you send your child in?

Is it worth the risk?

After all, school is important but, despite the precautions, the snow is still there.

Education is a beautifully inspiring culture of yes.

Yes, all children can learn.

Yes, every child has something special to offer the world.

Yes, we will have after school and extracurricular activities.

Yes, we will write lessons and grade papers over the weekends.

Yes, we will take calls from parents after hours.

Yes, we will buy snacks for the kids.

Yes, we will order supplies out of our own pockets.

Yes, we will work without a contract.


Yes. Yes. Yes to almost anything that involves making these children’s lives better.

But this one is a hard no for me.

No, I will not teach in-person until it is safe to return to schools.

No, I will not compromise my physical health or that of my students.

No, I will not destroy my mental health with constant stress and anxiety.

No, I will not chance bringing COVID-19 home to my family.

No, I will not sacrifice seeing my mother and brothers so that I can be inside a classroom.

No, I will not risk getting sick and my son losing the only parent he has.

If you haven’t noticed, teachers can do anything.

But that doesn’t mean we should have to.


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