I am also worried that portraying public-school teachers as ambivalent workers in need of stern encouragement only serves to further tarnish public education in America. American education underperforms in part because of the comparatively low prestige of teaching. Teachers are used to serving students in spite of mediocre pay, demanding work, and public criticism. We know what our “level [of] duty” is.
Kristen McConnell is absolutely correct that teachers must return to the classroom. Schools, especially in low-income and marginalized communities, cannot be kept closed indefinitely. Above all, this is an equity issue. While many middle- and high-income families will be able to afford private tutors and attend schools with more resources available for distance learning, those in low-income and marginalized communities do not have this option. I am a teacher in a low-income community, and I know that every day my students stay away from the classroom is a day they fall further behind their peers. Teachers have a duty to serve their communities, and now we must step into the breach and look beyond the immediacy of the health risks to what a future would look like if the pandemic creates even further separation between the academic tool kits of marginalized and privileged students.
In full disclosure, I work for a teachers’ union.
Educators, children, nurses, and doctors did not stand by idly while many Americans were suffering and dying. Many of them made home visits or packets of materials for students who lacked technology at home or the internet. They helped serve food to students and families, and organized car caravans and backpack drives to ensure their most vulnerable students knew that supportive and caring adults were there for them.
Readers respond to our June 2020 issue
Some educators made masks to donate to first responders. They made their living rooms into classrooms, helped students regain a semblance of normalcy, and advocated for increased federal funding to ensure communities and families did not feel the brunt of the pandemic’s economic impact. Nevertheless, all of this seems to be ignored as the writer wants you to believe that educators should buck up and get back to work as she did.
McConnell creates a false binary: If you’re a good educator, you’ll prepare your living will and get back to work. If you are a bad educator, you will protest and go on strike. How can we blame educators for wanting to protect themselves and their students?
We are all struggling to make the best decisions with the information we have. Educators, like nurses and doctors, are human beings trying to do their jobs despite these extraordinary circumstances.
As a public-school teacher, I couldn’t agree more that schools are essential and need to open—safely. It’s important to recognize, however, that teachers aren’t just fighting for ourselves. We’re fighting for our communities. We’re fighting to make sure that schools are reopened in a way that doesn’t lead to a second surge. In order to do that, we need real-life working conditions to follow existing health recommendations and states to shut down activity in other sectors. If we want schools to reopen, we need to close bars. Everyone in our society needs to get on board so that schools can get back to what’s really essential: feeding, sheltering, and educating our children.