I Care Deeply but will not Die for My Job, says Teacher

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Published on PTLN 7-1320

I Care Deeply but will not Die for My Job, says Teacher

By Kristine Mayle, July 6, 2020

I’m at a loss. I am due to start school in less than a month. There is no plan in place to ensure that I or my students will be safe. I truly believe there is no way to resume in-person classes safely right now (or any time soon). I spent my morning writing to every single elected official that represents me, even down to the tax assessor! I found almost 70 different people to write to. I encourage other teachers and parents to do the same.

This is what I wrote.

Dear Elected/Appointed Official,

I am a dedicated special education teacher about to begin my 14th year in education. I work in a middle school in Albuquerque. I love my administrators, co-workers and of course, our students. I love my job. I cannot think of anything I would rather do. I enjoy building relationships with students, earning their trust and respect and opening their eyes to the world. Every Sunday during a typical school year you will find me writing lessons, grading papers and ignoring the piles of dishes and laundry at home to ensure that I am prepared and giving my students 100%. I take the job of educating young people very seriously and am constantly reading and taking classes in order to improve my craft. I have spent this bizarre summer doing just that–I’ve taken courses on how to become a better online teacher, about students’ social emotional needs and how to best serve them. I have taken classes on trauma and how to adjust my instruction for kids that are dealing with things they shouldn’t have to be dealing with. I’ve spent dozens of hours reading and watching lectures about how to improve my anti-racist teaching practices.

I am writing to you because I am terrified. I am terrified that I will be sent to my death because we as a society do not value our educators or our students. The push to resume in-person school is unrelenting. I understand that parents need to get back to work. I do. But here is the thing. My job is to teach middle school students about mathematics. I teach about integers, exponents, fractions. I build relationships through collaborative practices. We have deep discussions about specific math problems, as well as the day to day life problems of being a middle schooler. I ensure that my students feel safe enough to take risks with their thinking and to be brave enough to share their thoughts out loud with their peers. I feed the students that come to class hungry. I help clothe the kids that need it. I supply more pencils than you could imagine. I care so deeply. But I will not die for my job. I didn’t sign up to be a first responder.

Classrooms are places of learning and growth and fun and hard work and relationships. A successful classroom has students working together, learning from each other, sharing supplies, sharing learning tools like rulers and protractors and a teacher circulating around and helping students individually. None of this is possible to do well in our current reality. I’ve been trying to figure out how to provide feedback to students when I cannot get near them. I don’t know how they will be able to learn from me without seeing my facial expressions because I will have to wear a mask. I don’t know how I will informally assess their understanding when I cannot see their faces due to masks. While not ideal, I truly believe I am better equipped to do my job well online. In person will not work. It will be dangerous to us all, and the quality of instruction will suffer. The “benefits” of in-person learning will be negated by the precautions we will have to take to protect ourselves and our students.

I have stayed home. I’ve done what I was supposed to do and now I’m going to be sent into an environment that will threaten my health and possibly kill me. Adults are not following social distancing guidelines and are refusing to wear masks. These same adults will be sending their children to school. What do I do when a twelve year old refuses to wear their mask? How do I keep adolescents distanced from each other when they typically cannot keep their hands off each other? It will not be safe for any of us.

I am not a babysitter. It is unfortunate that our society views and uses me as such, but that is not why I do what I do. Why is it that schools have to adapt to the needs of businesses? Why are the businesses not adapting to the needs of their working parent employees? It is not safe to return to school right now. Period.

I have done my part. I’ve gone above and beyond for hundreds, maybe thousands of students throughout the years. All of us educators do it. We don’t go into education for money, for glory, for anything other than the love of our students, society and our hopes to create a better world. I am begging you because you have more power than me. Please prevent us from opening in-person school until it is truly safe to do so. I am so grateful that our governor shut schools as quickly as she did. I am positive she saved many lives. I have friends that teach in New York City and Chicago. They all know someone, either a teacher or an administrator that contracted COVID at work because schools were shut too late. New York City has been hiding the number of educator deaths from the public. The teachers union estimates that more than 90 educators DIED. And that was back in the spring, before this latest surge.

I understand that the economy is dependent on our labor to get other industries back to work. But right now, with cases surging into the tens of thousands per day nationally, it is not the time to go back to “normal.” It is time to re-envision the role of school. Schools are not daycare centers or places to hold children when their parents work.

We as educators made online learning work with no training, no warning, and no guidance. We did it on our own. I am confident that we can make online learning better than whatever version of in-person school we may come up with.

Here is where you come in. You are an elected official. Solve the problems. Find a solution. Teachers were able to reimagine instruction and change completely how we do our jobs in just a few weeks. Now is the time for others to step up. Get creative. Ask businesses to allow flexibility for working parents. Push for Universal Basic Income so that we can all stay home and stay safe. Push nationally and locally to make our government serve our citizens, instead of wealthy corporations. This is a matter of priorities. Is the economy more important than human life? If your answer is “yes,” you should not be in a position of power.

I am sending this letter to every single person I can find that is elected or appointed to represent my interests, on all levels of government. I am doing this because I do not know what else to do. I was taught that the purpose of government is to serve the people. Please prove that you agree by fighting for your constituents, your teachers and your students.

Sincerely and with much fear and urgency,

Kristine Mayle

This is republished with the permission of the author.

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