An Open Letter from a Teacher

Hi friends! Thanks for joining me again. I’ve had some things on my mind as of late, what with the debate about schools reopening in full swing, and as a teacher I obviously have a lot of thoughts about this. I thought I would air it all out here. You’re brave if you continue reading.
First of all, the thought that teachers are “lazy” for being apprehensive about going back to school in the fall is, frankly, insulting. If you ask a teacher whether they would return to in-person teaching or continue with remote learning, I guarantee that 9 out of 10 of them will beg to get back in the classroom.

I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was in 9th grade. I helped a friend study for Earth Science exams and hey, I was pretty good at explaining the content in a different, easier to understand, way. After 10th grade English I knew for sure, I wanted to be a high school English teacher. And so that’s what I did. Never changed my major, never hesitated, never waivered. I currently teach 11th and 12th grade English.
I’ve always loved it. That’s not to say that there weren’t days when I cried or when I thought I was shit at this and I was some kind of impostor. But I’ve always had a passion about education and giving every single student the opportunity to rise from where they are now and access the rest of the world, to unlock their true potential and achieve all their dreams.

There are some things you need to know about me as a teacher:
-I call my students my “kids” because I don’t see them as temporary blips on the radar of my life. I love them like I would love my own children. Some of them need that love more than others, but they all get it.
-I am that teacher who worries about her kids when the school day is over.
-I’ve cried, so many times, over my kids. I’ve cried in frustration because they let me down, I’ve cried the deep agonizing tears for students taken from this world far too soon, I’ve cried tears of happiness and triumph at seeing my kids succeed, and I’ve cried tears of understanding and commiseration when they needed a shoulder to cry on (and with).
-I buy supplies for my room without a second thought. I spend my own money to make my room an interesting and welcoming place for all.
-I feed my kids. I pay for that too. I am that video on Facebook of the teacher who says, “Why aren’t you eating? You don’t have lunch? Here, eat this banana. I won’t eat it. Have these bars too.” I always try to have granola bars and other snacks for any kids who might want something. You wouldn’t believe how many kids need that.
-I give my kids rides to school if they need it. I take them from school to the gym we both frequent. I’ve given rides to prom before. Some of them have my phone number and we keep in touch.
-I read their essays, even the ones not assigned in my class. I read their college essays, their AP English essays, hell I even read their essays once they’re in college. I love it. They trust me with their words and at the end of the day, all we have are our words.
-As much as I may help them, they do the same for me. My first year at my current school, I had a group of students who would go to the cafeteria and get me a stromboli every Wednesday because I was very pregnant and didn’t want to waddle down there myself. Some of my kids came to my baby shower for my son, they offer to babysit, they randomly message me or tag me in posts to show their appreciation.

I know, I’ve painted a very glowing portrait of myself as an educator. What I hope this shows you is not only my dedication to my kids, but also my love of my profession. I hated remote teaching. I hated not getting to check in with my kids, ask them about their dogs or their scholarship application or their recent trip to visit family. I’m at my best when I’m in my classroom. All the same, I’m very scared about going back to work next month. I want to, desperately, but only if it’s safe. And while I love my job so much and it’s a huge part of my identity, I don’t know that I’m willing to die for it. I know, a lot of people who get COVID don’t die, but some do, and a lot of them are left with symptoms for who knows how long. One of the lasting effects is decreased lung capacity, up to 30-40%. All of my “hobbies” include physical activity…how can I run or work out with 30-40% less lung function? So while yes, I probably won’t die of it, what about my quality of life? Isn’t that important? And some people are sick and hospitalized for months, entire seasons of their lives. I don’t want to miss that much of my life! Why are teachers expected just to sacrifice, sacrifice, SACRIFICE, and the moment we stand up and say Hey, that’s enough, we’re somehow labeled as being lazy and we have to choose between our paychecks and our lives. No one should have to make that choice.

I have some other very real questions and concerns. If I, or someone in my household, come in contact with a person with COVID and we have to self-isolate for 2 weeks, does that take away from our sick days? Although I’ve been teaching for a while, most of my sick days got used for my maternity leaves (ah yes, the perks of being a female in a job that has no maternity leave…). What if that happens multiple times? Dan is also a teacher so between the two of us, odds are pretty good we’ll come in contact with someone who has COVID. Between this and normal illnesses, our sick days are pretty much gone, and sick days are a big incentive once we get to be retirement age (the district basically buys back any unused sick days once we get over like, 220 or something like that). So if we burn through them all, that puts us at a huge disadvantage going forward.
If I get it and have to be hospitalized, who will help my family? They’ll have to be quarantined. Who picks up the slack? Who will make sure they don’t just eat cereal for every meal? 😉
In the event that someone at my school gets it and dies, will there be sub coverage to attend the funeral?

I’m not saying I have all the answers, because I don’t. I don’t want to do remote learning again, but I worry about the safety of my kids and my colleagues. I worry about all the families. I worry about the people who typically rely on school as a form of “daycare” for their kids so they can work, and I think it’s unfair that they have to make that choice as well. The whole scenario is a nightmare.
And I’m aware that teachers aren’t the only profession in this kind of bind. But I’m a teacher, and teachers and schools have been at the heart of a lot of ridicule and skepticism lately, and I needed to get my concerns out. I need people to know, it’s bullshit that many of us are being advised to update our life insurance policies and wills in the event that we die from this.
There are some jobs where death is an inherent risk, but teaching shouldn’t be one of them.


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2 thoughts on “An Open Letter from a Teacher

  1. I work in schools too, and It’s not until I did, that I realised the time and sacrifices teachers make. They are carers, social workers, counsellors, educators.. the list goes on. I think pe are realsing very slowly the role that schools have in society, but I still think it will take a long time

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