I’m not nostalgic about 2020. Dear God, who could possibly be nostalgic about 2020? And yet…remember back in 2020, when teachers were heroes? Remember when schools first shut down, and we were scrambling to master new technology and get materials to students. and make sure they were fed and trying to provide some sense of normalcy, and the whole world was like, “Wow, teachers are amazing”? The behind-the-scenes work we’d always done was suddenly visible to parents, and Draper James was offering us free dresses (haha, I jest), and we were second only to healthcare workers, first responders, and InstaCart when it came to heroism.
What a difference a year makes. Those of us who were hailed for our creativity and resilience at the beginning of the pandemic are now lazy, cowardly, worthless slackers who just want to get paid to sit on our butts.
I teach in a county that’s still virtual. We’re at about 200 cases per 100,000, and we head back to school in a couple of weeks. This is the second attempt to open schools. The first was in January when cases were double what they are now. Teachers protested since the situation was exponentially worse than it was when school went virtual in the first place, and the county struck a compromise. Teachers would teach from their classrooms, but students remained online. This solved exactly zero problems and pleased nobody.
I’m a teacher and the parent of a fourth grader, so I have friends on both sides of what’s becoming an increasingly vitriolic exchange across the country. The parents I know are desperate to get their kids back in school. The teachers are desperate to get vaccinated and get their classroom HVAC fixed before that happens.
I get it. We can’t have it both ways; the kids have to either get back in class or stay virtual. There’s an element of disagreement there that is unavoidable. But the way each side is caricaturing the other? That’s what’s killing me.
“These parents just don’t want to raise their own kids. All they want is free daycare and they don’t care about our safety.”
“Teachers just want to get paid to sit at home and not do their jobs. If they get their way, we’ll never go back.”
The falseness of both these narratives is breaking my heart.
Parents have real concerns. Some kids are really, really failing to thrive in virtual school–especially kids with any kind of learning difference or special needs. Depression and anxiety are through the roof in elementary-aged kids. And people have jobs. Even if you’re lucky enough to be able to work from home, it doesn’t feel great to stick your kindergartener in front of a computer for school all morning, then say, “Mom has a meeting during your lunch break. There’s a sandwich on the counter and a towel on the floor so you can eat in front of the TV. Make sure you log back in by 1:00.” And that’s the best-case scenario.
But, we have to stop teacher blame. Multiple teachers have died in the counties near us that are face to face. My state isn’t vaccinating teachers yet, and I don’t know when they’ll start. I have colleagues who are immunocompromised, who have spouses or children who are high risk, who are caregivers for elderly parents. This is literally life or death for them. And even for those of us who aren’t high risk, there are concerns. Our students who choose to stay virtual? Their quality of education is definitely going to suffer once there are students in our classrooms, and I’m worried about that. I’m worried about the mental health of students and teachers when we’re back in school but living with all the COVID restrictions that take away so much of what made the school experience worthwhile.
Parents and teachers have the same goal: we all want kids safely back in the classroom. So, let’s stop teacher blame.
Man, teaching virtually sucks. It is so much harder and so much less rewarding than being in the classroom, and I can’t wait for it to be over. And I’ve got a kid who needs to be back in school because I need for the other fourth graders in his life to laugh at his jokes. They are not funny. Y’all. I cannot.
So if we have the same goal, why aren’t we joining forces? Why aren’t teachers and parents going after the things that will really make a difference; vaccines for teachers, funding to make classrooms safe, and societal precautions that make everyone safer. (Remember how we kept the schools closed but opened the bars? Yeah, maybe we could prioritize that differently.)
Teachers and parents are smart as hell and unbelievably resourceful. Together, we could get kids back in school, keep everybody safe, and make up this learning gap everybody is so worried about.
If parents and teachers would turn their focus away from sniping at and caricaturing each other and instead focus on solving some actual problems, we could turn this thing around. And our kids need us to, desperately. They need an education, not a feud. They need us to lead, not to bloviate on social media. The kids are not okay, and it’s going to take all of us working together to fix that.