As the Teachers Fall, So Will We All

I am in my tenth year as a teacher and this has been, without a doubt, the hardest year I’ve ever had, including my first, and it’s not even half way over. Under normal metrics, I’m failing as a teacher because I can only put in maybe two hours extra a day into my work, because I’m also trying to maintain a healthy family and get at least five hours of sleep a night to stay healthy myself, and I can’t do it. I’ve taken days off just to get caught up with work, and I know teachers who are beyond burnt out, who are working the whole weekend and four or five extra hours a day, and it’s still not enough.

All the while, our government and too many of our fellow Americans are levying this burden of keeping the country limping along onto our backs. Again. We have been made responsible for keeping kids out of trouble, even when they’re not in our classes. We’ve been made responsible for instilling ethics and moral fortitude, yet get called out for indoctrination when we do so. We’ve been made the stewards of keeping our kids informed and educated, but get called partisan when we teach anything that goes against a certain narrative, even if it’s the truth. This has never been sustainable, and this pandemic has only sped up the process of widening the cracks in the system.

Here’s a suggestion: Instead of asking teachers to be “heroes” and “soldiers,” to fall in the name of our calling, let us just be teachers, and to do it well and responsibly. How about we listen and treat us like the educated professionals we are, let us have a say in the conduct of our classrooms, and ask our opinion about our own safety instead of hiring non-educators and corporations to do so? Then, how about we ask the government to do its goddamned job to provide relief and funds to help us do what we need to do? How about they provide relief to those who have lost jobs, who are going hungry? Because I can’t teach a student whose parents have lost their jobs, who have lost family members to this pandemic, who are starving, who can’t use these computers they so graciously paid for at home because they don’t have internet. We wouldn’t have to risk our lives and our family’s lives if the government had stepped up and done what it needed to do instead of fighting with one another and playing politics.

If this lasts the rest of the school year, at the rate we’re going we won’t have teachers left to teach next year, and the years after that. It’s not just about what the kids need now, it’s how the face of education will be different for the next four to six years, because a lot of us will be leaving the profession after this? And who’s going to become a teacher when this is all said and done. According to a recent NY Times article, the National Education Association reports that 28 percent of educators are considering leaving the profession as a result of the Pandemic, and there was already a shortage of teachers before that. If we don’t act soon, we will be facing a crisis education has not seen in decades. If we don’t support our teachers, if we don’t demand our government to act, we’re not just going to lose one year to this pandemic, but multiple. It’s well past time to take this seriously. It’s been decades of neglect that has led to this, and it will take years to fix, but if we do nothing our entire way of life will begin to wash away and crumble without the roots of a well educated populace to keep it in place.

It’s not enough anymore to plant the seed of knowledge in a student, we all must lend a hand to restore the ground in which we can plant, and shoveling a lot of bullshit onto it is not going to solve the problem. Do your part, wear a mask, listen to the professionals, and call or write to your representatives to have them pass legislation that gets Americans the help they need. To provide food to the 50 million in need this year, and to make sure schools have the ability to teach in a way that our teachers can maintain. We can do this, but it will take all of us, as it always has.

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