It’s a hard time to be a teacher. One minute we’re the heroes of the pandemic, going above and beyond to teach our students. Then suddenly we are vilified because we can’t easily choose between teaching in person and our health and safety. Teacher unions and districts are battling it out, leaving many of us in limbo. Every state is making different choices, which only amplifies the confusion and frustration. Meanwhile, it feels like no one is listening to what we really need to feel safe teaching in person.
Will Biden’s plan do enough?
President Biden just issued an executive order for safely reopening schools. While it could mean a national reopening strategy, more school funding, and increased testing, will it be enough? As NEA President Becky Pringle said recently, “the reality in far too many schools … is that effective distancing, mask-wearing, ventilation, COVID-19 testing, contract tracing, and other crucial mitigation strategies are not in place.”
A recommendation isn’t a policy
We know there is no perfect scenario for re-opening schools, but we can’t focus on teaching when leaders are making decisions based on recommendations, and those decisions keep changing. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters, “Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for the safe reopening of schools.” But as White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, the CDC hasn’t issued guidance on teacher vaccinations and measures needed for safe school re-openings.
We need a plan, not more chaos and confusion
The whole situation is starting to feel like an unruly classroom that is in desperate need of classroom management. Eager to hear from you, we posted a poll on our Instagram stories (28,320 teachers responded!) Here’s what teachers really need to feel safe in person.
We need teachers who teach in person to be vaccinated
Seventy-eight percent of teachers we polled said they’d feel safe teaching in person once they’re vaccinated. Yet only 8 percent of teachers polled have received the vaccine. Because plans for teacher vaccinations vary greatly state-to-state, we were curious to find out if schools had plans for getting teachers vaccinated. Sixty-nine percent of teachers polled said their school doesn’t have a plan.
We need teachers with health conditions to be able to teach remotely
“If a teacher has a health condition or a family member with a health condition that puts them at a greater risk for getting COVID-19, they shouldn’t teach in person.” Ninety-three percent of teachers we polled agreed with this statement. It’s been heartbreaking to see teachers choosing between their job and paycheck and risking their health or a family members’ health. Many teachers like Dwayne Reed are teaching outside their school buildings in protest after their request to teach remotely was denied. That’s a choice that no teacher should have to make.
We need to stop pressuring teachers to return before it’s safe
No one knows better than a teacher what’s really happening in schools. The reality is not all schools have enough PPE for teachers, cleaning supplies, or the funds to buy more. Many schools don’t have a full-time nurse on staff. In older school buildings, air quality is an issue. Sixty-five percent of the teachers we polled agreed with the statement, “I feel pressure to teach in person, but I don’t feel like we know enough about the virus to return safely.” If working conditions aren’t safe at a teacher’s school, they shouldn’t be pressured into in-person teaching. No teacher is saying they don’t want to work. Rather, they are asking to teach online until they know it is safe. It’s a misconception that teachers don’t want to do their jobs or work hard; they have been working harder than ever since last March.
We need contact tracing and testing systems in place
We were excited to see that 63 percent of teachers we polled reported that their schools do contact tracing. This feels like a step in the right direction, and yet, as we talk to teachers about their experiences, we keep hearing that districts are pushing to reopen without plans in place. If we can test and trace, we can better isolate, contain, and treat outbreaks before they spread.
We know that schools need more funding to make what we need a reality. Fingers crossed that Biden’s order moves us in the right direction. Because we aren’t heroes or villains. We are teachers. All we are asking for is to make sure we can return to our classrooms safely.