I Shouldn’t Have to Choose Between My Students and My Own Health, But Here We Are

And I may not even have a choice.

I’m lucky. I’m relatively young, I’m healthy, and I don’t have any underlying conditions. I’m not living with elderly parents or anyone with respiratory disease. I’m not pregnant, and nobody in my house is immunocompromised. I’m lucky.

And I’m terrified.

Teachers shouldn’t have to choose between their students and their own health … but they are.

Everything we know about COVID 19 seems to be summed up by *shrug*

We don’t know why it affects some people so much more severely than others. (Maybe it’s blood type? That seems promising … unless you’re A positive, like me.) We don’t know why some people are asymptomatic, or why some people are “long-termers.” We don’t know why the symptoms in kids are often different than adults, or how frequently kids are asymptomatic carriers of the disease.

Closer to home, I don’t know where I can get a test without waiting nine hours for something that will give me unreliable results in seven to ten days. I don’t know how many personal days I’ll have to burn if I’m exposed and have to quarantine. I don’t know how depleted my own kids’ immune systems are after four months of staying home, although I think I might be about to find out.

Basically, what all of the above comes down to, is that anybody who goes into a school building next month will be at risk. Kids are going to get sick, and they’re going to get the adults who care for them sick. People are going to get very, very sick. But there are a lot of crucially important counterarguments as well.

Kids desperately need to be back in school

I love my students, and I’ve worried about them all summer. Many of them are in food-insecure communities or live in homes I know for a fact are abusive. Even the ones with great, loving families are taking a hit in their mental health due to the isolation and confinement they’ve been through. I’ve got two kids of my own; I see this up-close and personal every day. And online learning doesn’t work, even when kids have both the technology and support needed; they need peer interaction and face-to-face instruction to learn all the skills they need.

I want to take care of my students. I want them to get an education; I teach at a school for immigrant and refugee kids. They come to me with huge knowledge gaps, and watching them grow is one of the greatest joys in my life. I want them to be safe and fed and learning as much as anybody in the world.

It’s an impossible decision: do I go back to school and jeopardize my health or do I stay home and miss my chance to support my students?

If I go back, my nine-year-old and three-year-old will have to go back to in-person learning as well. My little girl is probably incapable of wearing a mask for the nine-hour day she’ll be in preschool. My fourth grader desperately wants to be able to run around and play, but will probably spend all day on a computer six feet away from other kids. He will learn less and have less physical activity than he would if he did digital learning with parental support. They also won’t be able to see their grandparents or cousins for the foreseeable future. It will take a toll on them. They are the ones who will have to make the sacrifice, not to mention be in danger of getting the virus, just like everyone else.

In the end, I’ll make this decision for the same reason most teachers will; I can’t afford not to go back

We need my job. If I don’t have the option to work remotely, I’ll just have to mask up, say a prayer, and wade into the cesspool of contagion that is an American middle school. I’ll join my students in taking a huge risk to myself and my family every single morning. At least, unlike many of my students, my family has health insurance. So I guess there’s the bright side; I don’t really have to choose between my health and my students. I’m not being given a choice.

What do you think about teachers having to choose between students or their own health as we head into the fall? Share your thoughts on our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE Facebook group.

Also, Teachers, We are in Danger of Caretaker Collapse.

I Shouldn't Have to Choose Between My Students and My Own Health, But Here We Are

Posted by Captain Awesome

Captain Awesome teaches seventh grade English at an urban charter school for refugee and immigrant kids. She is a big fan of books, social justice, holiday-flavored coffee creamers, righteous indignation, and Friday Night Lights.

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