(Photo courtesy of Edutopia.com)
A little over a year ago, my partner asked me if I taught a particular student because she heard they had been killed. I immediately began scanning my memory for the names of every student who I had taught since 2007, about two thousand kids. After a while of frantically racking my brain, I decided I was pretty sure that I hadn’t taught this child, but because I’ve taught so many students I had to double check social media, just to make sure. I’ve experienced student death before. I’ve lost students to community violence, police violence and tragic accidents. I’ve been devastated by every loss but was always able to grieve and then come back from it. This day however my head felt like it was in a fog that I couldn’t get rid of. The students I’d lost kept coming back all day. I was picturing empty desks, Facebook tributes, funerals, and their faces. It consumed me.
Eventually, my partner convinced me to go to a therapist. I had no desire to go. I had many preconceived notions that seeing a therapist would mean I was weak. Therapy was not easy, but now over a year later, it has helped me and I continue it.
I share this story because if politicians think for one second that I’m physically going back into a classroom where I have the potential to spread Covid-19, a potentially deadly disease causing a global pandemic, to my students or their loved ones, then they must be out of their minds. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain that would cause me if I was personally responsible for the death of one of my students.
There’s currently a full on assault to get schools open, without regard to consequences. President Trump tweeted in all caps that, “schools must open in the fall” and later the same week threatened schools would lose funding if they didn’t open. Our inept Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who hates public education, is also threatening school districts to open, or else. These two want us to not only ignore science and the continued, purposeful neglect of the American public school system, but they want us to willingly put our students in harm’s way.
As educators are showing across the country through Tik Toks and memes, asking kids to wear masks and saying that overcrowded and underfunded schools can social distance is an absolute and terrible joke. The public school my own children attend had to have a fundraiser for fully functioning water fountains.
I teach in Chicago Public Schools. This past fall they forced educators to go on strike for basic things that our students should have always had. A few basic needs we marched for were nurses, social workers, counselors, librarians, the ability for four year olds to take naps in Pre-K, and for cleaner buildings. Chicago has schools with lead in its water and asbestos in its buildings. Schools across the country have issues like these and have also had to strike to improve education for their students. America’s schools have been overcrowded and underfunded for generations.
Through all of these challenges however, educators have always made it work. Virtual learning was not ideal this spring. Educators, parents and students had to learn a lot on the fly while also keeping our families safe and worrying about everyone and everything. We created virtual class meetings, we learned new digital apps to better engage and educate our students. We had no training or resources to help us. We learned by talking to other educators and communicating with students and parents. Many students across the country didn’t have adequate technology or internet at home. Schools worked to help them. Teachers held virtual parent conferences and started reaching out to parents much more. Personally, during virtual learning, I got a grant from Donors Choose for $1,000 dollars and sent books to my students, I sent weekly parent updates, sent Remind messages, checked my school email constantly, used Loom, Google Classroom, made videos explaining assignments, held virtual classes, and had my students compete in virtual poetry events. I’m not an exception, countless teachers I know did these same things to help students and often even more.
As educators with proper virtual teaching training, we can and will do even better this fall than we did in the spring. We always do. As an educator I’d pick in person learning any day with my students but because of the failures of our federal government this is not an option. Temporary virtual learning can and will work, because we can plan for it this time.
President Trump tweeted out a list of European countries where schools were open, as if the U.S. and Europe were at the same place with Covid, we aren’t. While much of Europe has significantly reduced Covid cases, we have U.S. states with higher Covid infection rates than entire countries. Western Europe worked from the start to not only acknowledge that Covid was real but also to put nationwide systems in place to stop it. They also have national healthcare. That is why their students are in school.
It’s summer and the U.S. is setting world records in Covid outbreaks. Politicians like President Trump discredit science and Betsy DeVos makes false equivalencies, comparing the risk of riding a bike to purposefully putting students in danger due to Covid. They depersonalize our children to rates. They say the death rate is low. My students and their families aren’t numbers, they are people.
Trump claims that Covid has a “low mortality rate” as if these aren’t actual lives. Covid has a death rate 50 times higher than the flu. We have almost 57 million K-12 public education students. Even with a very conservative estimate using the mortality rate of .03%, we are talking about the very tragic possibility of 17,100 dead students aged 5-17 from Covid. But if we include kids under five in that estimate, the statistics change and that number of dead kids could quadruple. Sit with that, for perspective. I hope you don’t need it but the attacks on 9/11 had almost 3,000 deaths. That was a terrorist attack. If our students die it’s murder by our government. The number of student deaths doesn’t even take into account spreading it to their families, educators, school staff and the community at large. Those groups of people, based on age, have significantly higher mortality rates. We will not be an experiment.
Yes, virtual learning caused many challenges for parents, students, and educators this past spring. Instead of bashing and threatening teachers, our government should be supporting educators and families to prepare for virtual learning. They should be putting protections in place to help parents have income while working from home. Our country can and should learn the Covid best practices that other countries have implemented, because I do not want anyone’s children or families, my own family, my colleagues or community members to be put in harm’s way.
As educators begin speaking out about their fears of schools reopening, they have now drawn the ire from Fox News hosts. Just this past week Tucker Carlson called me a “self righteous little fortune cookie” because I dared tweet that educators care about our students.
I’ll double down on my tweet and say not only do educators across this country care about our students, we will do whatever it takes to keep them safe, even if that means that we must prepare for a national educators strike.
Starting the school year virtually is a tough thing for educators to think about. We love being with our students, even the annoying ones. I, however, don’t want other educators to know the pain that comes from losing students. Keeping our students, their families, our own families, colleagues, and community safe is the most important thing we can and will do.
Educators across this country will pick science over capitalized tweets. We will pick the love of our students over threats made to us any and everyday of the week.
Thank you Sir. Your point is very valid. I still have memories of my one student who unfortunately died during the school year 27 years ago. Keep dedicating yourself for the better of our future and encourage your coworkers to do the same. Lively hood is most important than money
Thank you for putting these important thoughts into words. My district just announced full in-school learning this fall, and the local chat rooms are overwhelmingly saying Hooray! I hadn’t been nervous about going back to teaching until now.
Also wondering if you’re related to any Detroit area Stiebers, my maiden name…
Thanks for the message! Your district is in person?
Yeah I have a lot of relatives in the Detroit area.
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