The Covid-19 roller coaster has taken a toll on all of us. We have bought masks in bulk and walked down grocery store aisles with empty shelves. We have experienced a range of emotions and fought to keep our heads above water. Many have dealt with uncertainties, job loss, and worse, the loss of a loved one to a virus no one saw coming. I am an educator, and the extreme ups and downs of the last few months have been scary and exhausting.
I always knew deep down that I wanted to teach. In college, I went through a time period where I was on the fence about my major but knew I was in the right one when at my part-time tutoring job I helped a child read for the first time. It was life-changing for me, and I was thrilled when I landed a full time teaching position.
Try as it might, college didn’t prepare me for the real world. Teachers rarely get to “teach”. Instead, we are fully responsible for every life that steps into our classroom. Our kids come from a range of backgrounds including turbulent divorces, homelessness, parent incarceration, non-English speaking, and children who step off the school bus into homes where they are abused in every way imaginable. I have no assistant, and my largest class contained just shy of 30 children. I have been yelled at, called names, had children throw items at myself and others, and been physically hit and kicked. Once, after an incident, I sat across from a group of adults and was questioned about why I didn’t prevent the incident from beginning in the first place. Sound rough? My experiences pale in comparison to the ones I have heard from friends who teach in other districts or states.
We are also, of course, responsible for academic success. Our job consists of instructing in very specific ways to hit standards, pulling small groups, testing, grading, lesson planning, collaborating with peers, meeting IEP requirements, attending professional development trainings, responding to emails and phone calls, and at any time be able to discuss where a child is academically, what they may be struggling with, and what I will be doing to fix it. In all of this, I do not make enough money to support my own children’s basic needs. I recently read that in Texas the average salary for a teacher was around $52,000 a year. I don’t make anywhere close to that figure, even before taxes. If I was a single mother I would have to work a second job or depend on government assistance to survive.
So, why do I do this? I love my students. I know that for some I am the only stability they have during a school year. Also, teaching is a career you can’t return to. I do fear that if I left I would regret it, and I know that I can’t come back.
Now, however, we are now being demanded to return to school, despite not being at all set up for battling the pandemic. In my opinion, teaching is the profession in which employees have been asked to bend the most, without adequate resources. Everyone is in a difficult position right now, but it is unbelievable to me how quickly we went from “Teachers are superheroes” to “Go do your job.” It seems the economy and financial wellbeing of most fall on the shoulders of schools opening back up, despite the massive risk it is to do so. Children rarely wash their hands properly, do not freely want to wear a mask for hours at a time, and touch everything. We are expected to be in a room with 20-30 students and maintain social distancing the best we can, completely change how we teach, be ready to go online at any time, monitor each student’s health as well as mentally track who they come into contact with, and continue to meet the needs of our students. Oh, and try not to get sick, because substitute teachers were rarely available in years prior and now are non-existent.
I wanted to write this piece not to garner sympathy, but to hopefully shed light on what is being asked of all educators. No one’s situation is an easy one: we want to be at school. But are we sacrificing teachers by throwing them on the front lines without the resources needed to stay safe, so that the economy can continue? Will it take deaths before it is realized that maybe schools shouldn’t have opened back up just yet? Is it a fair exchange? And if it is your child or your child’s teacher, would you feel the same? Really…is it worth it?