Education, Featured Post, Teachers — August 3, 2020 at 9:38 pm

An Open Letter to Teachers as the Fall of Covid Approaches


Dear Teachers,

As your school districts’ “return to school” plans are being released, remember that you are going to hear mostly from the folks in your communities who are angry–angry that classes are being offered online, angry at the lack of child care availability, angry at teachers for not putting themselves in danger.

In fact, many of these persons may be angry about things that have nothing to do with schools. They might be angry about the poor condition of the roads in their community, or erratic trash pickup in their neighborhood. Or they could be angry about things happening nationally–stressing about job security, worried the possibility of being infected with the Covid virus, or anxious about the racial unrest in our society.

In short, they are angry about things they can’t control.

And for many of us, one of the only places we feel we can exert any modicum of control is over our public schools…

  • We can’t get the pothole at the end of our driveway filled, but we can signup for a 3 minute slot at the local school board meeting to vent our anger.
  • We can’t get our recycling picked up regularly, but we can tell the school board president that we don’t like the new reading program.
  • Some of us don’t like being told to wear a mask, but we can write a nasty, mean-spirited post on a teacher’s Facebook page, or vote against the school budget to express our frustration.

Now, none of that means we should ignore any of that anger or frustration–because as misguided as some of it may be, it’s still real.

But it does mean we shouldn’t overreact to that anger, because in many places it doesn’t represent the feelings of the entire community.

For every person speaking out in anger at a school board meeting, there are dozens of silent school supporters who understand what a difficult situation all of us are dealing with, and know that the only way to get through this crisis is by working together–and cutting each other a little slack.

For every thoughtless, uninformed social media diatribe about “lazy teachers” and “greedy unions”, there are hundreds of our neighbors who want our schools to reopen just as much as teachers do…but only if it can be done safely, without risking the health and well-being of our children and school staff.

So hang in there, teachers, and don’t let the toxic rhetoric floating around the “Return to School” discussions get you down. Know that most of us put the health and safety of our children and school teachers ahead of any other concerns, and don’t want to sacrifice even a single student or teacher in the haste to reopen the schools.

For what it’s worth, here’s my “School Reopening Plan”: Rather than worry about 3rd grade reading tests, and M-STEP exams, and ACT WorkKeys, and AP exams, and PSATS and SATs (with Essay!!!), I’d put my entire focus on students’ emotional and mental health. The notions of kids “falling behind” or “losing ground” are artificial constructs, like “months or years of learning”; learning isn’t measured in time–it’s measured by how it changes how we think, and feel. No child’s learning is measured by a score on a test–and neither is a teacher’s worth.

And if you’re one of the folks who is thinking about sharing your anger about schools opening virtually with your child’s teacher, think again–because teachers (many of whom are also parents) are hurting just as much as you are about all of this. Every single teacher I know has been suffering the entire summer–worried about going back to work in schools with poor ventilation systems, worried about not seeing their students, worried about what happens with kids whose only hot meal of the day is at school, worried about colleagues with immune system problems, worried about how they can teach online and in-person depending on their school’s plans, worried about kids with no internet access at home…just worried.

If there’s a silver lining in the storm clouds around our schools we are going to see this year, it’s that we are going to face a reckoning about what we as a society truly value–test scores or our children.