I walked into my classroom the other day, one of the only times I’ve been back since March of this year. On the walls hung remnants of our student-made classroom calendar, prefixes and suffixes written on multi-colored sentence strips, and our lively list of classroom agreements, signed by the hands of each of my twenty-one students; on the bookshelves, piles of unsorted books, my students’ final choices before leaving their third-grade classroom for the last time; and on the board, I saw the last date I had written in my carefully formed cursive script: Wednesday, March 11, 2020.
Little did I know that March 11, 2020 would be the last day that I’d teach my group of rambunctious and inquisitive students in that very classroom. Little did I know that it would be my last day teaching any students within a classroom for the foreseeable future.
I’m sad that I had to quit my job yesterday. I didn’t want to leave the classroom, but I just didn’t feel safe going back in-person. Truthfully, I would give almost anything to go back to early March, where the world felt just a little bit simpler, where the future felt a little bit more certain, and where my biggest problem was that my students wouldn’t stop talking in the hallways while other classes were trying to learn.
But I can’t go back. None of us can. No matter how badly we want to.
It’s strange and unnerving how quickly our realities can shift. I feel as though I went to sleep last night in a completely different world, and that now I’ve awoken to this dystopian reality where we’re all too afraid to touch anything or anyone without the paralyzing anxiety of our lungs filling up with fluid from a deadly infection. The range of feelings I’m experiencing is overwhelming. I’m empowered, disoriented, grieving, and angry. I’m fearful, I’m excited, I’m exhausted.
I am no stranger to leaving teaching jobs. It seems that almost all of my work experiences follow a similar trajectory. I arrive at a school, I do my job well, I get noticed, and somewhere between this rosy beginning and the bumpy end, I fall out of good favor for speaking my mind and advocating for what I feel is right. In my first job, it was my attempt to teach my students about same-sex marriage that led to my decline; in my second job, it was witnessing the impact of profit-driven efforts on student learning and advocating for the company to change course; and now, it is the stark reality that so many of us have been faced with: administrations are making decisions about our bodies, our health, and our collective well-being without our consent.
And I just can’t get behind that.
I know this isn’t the case every where. I have heard of schools and school districts that are trying to make informed decisions based on community needs. They are surveying families, talking with teachers, and otherwise making a community-based decision on what returning to school in the Fall looks like. This post is neither an indictment nor an absolution of any one school, school district, or educational organization.
It is, instead, a call to action.
I posted last night on both Twitter and Instagram about my decision to leave my job. Thousands have liked or shared these posts in under a day. Countless people are saying things like, “This is the 4th tweet I’ve seen on this today,” or “I quit, too.”
And in some ways, it’s helpful to know that so many are in the same headspace as I am. It’s helpful to know I’m not alone, but it doesn’t make me any less nervous about what’s to come.
I understand the predicament that so many administrations are in, too. Choosing remote learning means upsetting parents, and as I’ve learned over the course of my ten-year career, parents have a lot of pull when it comes to decision-making in schools. In my first job, it was the pressure that my principal felt from a handful of parents that got me in trouble for trying to teach about marriage equality; it was the economic demand from parents for personalized playlists of activities that motivated my company to build tools that dehumanized learning; and now, it would seem, it is pressure from parents that is causing so many administrators to decide that we must to go back to school.
There are so many perspectives at play here. I understand, also, that parents are concerned about what they’ll do with their children if they’re forced to stay home with them. It’s true that some families need to physically go into work, leaving them with no childcare; but it’s also true that many families are working from home, albeit inconvenienced, but still able to monitor their kids while working. I’m not saying it’s easy, and I’m happy to acknowledge the fact that I’m neither a parent nor have an understanding of just how challenging that is.
But I will say this: it’s not my job to figure that out.
I know, that sounds harsh to say–but it needs to be said. Our society has built an oppressive narrative that teachers are expected to uphold. We are the saviors and the martyrs–the people that chose teaching out of the goodness of our hearts. We should, then, be more than willing to put our bodies and our families’ well-being on the line for your kids. We should cast aside our worries and fears about a global pandemic because we signed up for this, right?
Undoubtedly related to the teacher savior/martyr narrative is teacher pay. The fact of the matter is that teachers are not paid enough to take on the enormous responsibility of fixing the social and economic challenges that have come from living in the midst of a global pandemic. That’s what Congress is for. You know, those people who are doing little to nothing to help working families and schools weather this storm.
Teachers have a hard enough time taking care of their families as-is, and to expect them to subject themselves to a deadly virus that we’re learning more about every day, is oppressive and well outside the bounds of our job descriptions. I’m not sure you could pay me enough to go back into a small space with twenty or more students for an entire day, but what I can tell you is the salary you’d need to pay me would have to be a hell of a lot higher than what I make now–or what I used to make, I should say.
So parents, while we, teachers, do genuinely love your kids, we need to take a stand. We need to draw a line in the sand. We are not here to fix the economy when you continuously vote for government representatives that save you taxes while defunding education; we are not here to solve your childcare problems; and we are not here to get sick, put our families at risk, and potentially die because you need to make money for your family.
We have families to take care of, too. We want to survive this pandemic, too. We are human beings, too, just like you–despite the fact that American society has completely dehumanized us and made us objects of this capitalist mess.
Consider this post a call to action, not for teachers, but for you, the parents. You hold so much power in schools. If you all were to ban together and rise up in collective outrage at the notion that your school is actually willing to put teachers on the front lines of a global pandemic, you could probably effect a great deal of change. Your administrations fear you, and while I can’t quite tell if that’s a good thing or not, it gives you power and privilege in this situation.
We, the teachers, who take care of your kids day in and day out–who know your kids almost as well as you do–we need you to advocate for us. We are holding you accountable to what you said months ago on social media–that teachers do incredibly important (and challenging) work. We are holding you accountable to the words of appreciation you shared on your social media accounts so you and your parent friends could laugh at how poorly behaved your child is. We are holding you accountable to taking care of us in this time of need. We’ve paid our dues, and we’re cashing in.
Many of you will choose to ignore this, to write me off as yet another bitter teacher who just wants to work from home. But let me assure you, I am not the type to blindly quit my job and jump into the abyss of self-employment. I was pushed here. I was pushed here by a decade of being undervalued and taken for granted. And I won’t take it any more.
Now is your time to act. What will you do to save your child’s teachers?