Education, Featured Post — January 30, 2021 at 2:43 pm

The Forgotten Voices in the School Reopening Debate: Teachers


The following post was written by an elementary school teacher. This person could be your neighbor…a friend…a family member…or just someone you know on social media. This teacher hasn’t shared how they feel with anyone outside of their family, because there is so much pushback from persons in their community, and angry demands that teachers “get back to work!”


As if teachers haven’t been working all this time.

As if teachers don’t care about their students, or miss their colleagues.

As if teachers aren’t suffering in this pandemic in the same ways that those parents demanding an immediate reopening of the schools are suffering.

So here, with a few of my own thoughts interspersed below, are the unfiltered thoughts of a public school teacher about to return to their school for the first time in nearly a year…in the hopes that persons demanding those schools reopen consider the thoughts of teachers as they grapple with this decision…


“Feeling so distraught and angry and frustrated and scared today about everything…I hope you don’t mind me reaching out. Just venting, I think, because I feel my head may explode.”

“We received word from our principal yesterday that we are not to initiate contact with parents with information as they are deciding right now between in-person or online for their child, and all questions from parents should be forwarded to (the principal) unless we are “neutral” in our responses.”

Exactly how can anyone be “neutral” in this matter? Especially someone who works in a school and knows the danger they may be exposed to upon returning to their classroom.

“Our union has reminded us to be careful what we post on social media. The board wanted principals (not just the superintendent) to give parents clear info as to what in-person instruction will be like. This has not happened.”

Although the rhetoric we hear from school leaders emphasizes “honesty and transparency,” the truth is that details about reopening plans are few and far between, and that teachers often hear these sparse details first in the media, just like everyone else trying to figure out whether to send their children back to school or keep them at home, learning virtually, for the remainder of the school year.


“According to our (last) staff meeting, here’s the ‘plan’:

  • children sit 6 ft. apart in one spot for 3 hours, all facing in one direction
  • no recess
  • mask on at all times
  • no shared materials
  • submit assignments online
  • no papers going back and forth
  • no small groups
  • teacher’s face masked at all times
  • attending to online and in-person at the same time
  • teacher most likely not fully vaccinated.

I can’t even begin to describe the half-assed ‘plans’ described at our meeting.”

A lot of what we hear from the “reopen the schools” advocates is that their children “need a sense of normalcy,” and that returning to school will provide the “social and emotional support” they require during this difficult time.

As someone who has taught for 40 years now, none of the things described above sound even remotely “normal”–and, in fact, I’m concerned that young children being sent back to classrooms like the one above could be (re)traumatized, with long lasting effects on their feelings about school and learning.

Not to mention the gross negligence of school officials even considering reopening schools without doing even the bare minimum in terms of ensuring those spaces are safe for all concerned. 

“WTH are people thinking? How could anyone think this is better than what we are doing now?”

Lost in the reopening debate is the enormous amount of time and work teachers have committed to adapting their practices to these new ways of teaching and learning, designing new instructional strategies, and adopting new techniques, technologies, and learning applications to their new reality. And the vast majority of that time has been uncompensated–another indignity to which teachers are all too accustomed.

And if you want to know what “hybrid teaching” is all about, just ask a teacher how they simultaneously teach one group of students in their classroom, while another group of students is observing on their school-issued Chromebooks at home–video feeds flickering due to inadequate bandwidth, screens turned off, software glitches the norm–all with virtually nothing in the way of tech support, professional development, or additional resources to help them adapt to a doubled workload.

“And if I get sick or worse, or if my own kids who live with me get sick or worse, I can’t be anyone’s teacher, regardless of the ‘format’ we adopt. And the air quality at (teacher’s school)?!!! I am lucky to have had my first vaccine dose yesterday, and my second is Feb. 19. Having to use the word ‘lucky’ is just…unbelievable.”

Now try to juggle all these moving parts while also worried about your own health, and the health of your family members. While reading on a daily basis about vaccine shortages, supply chain snafus, and the growing realization that many of your friends and neighbors consider you an “acceptable casualty” in their zeal to fully reopen the country–regardless of the lack of safety protocols in place at your school.

“I talked at length to a friend who is a school board member before the last board meeting, (and) my cohorts and I wrote a letter listing our concerns. Our union wrote a letter in opposition to the superintendent’s recommendations. But feeling so powerless…”

Based on my conversations with dozens of teachers, I can attest to the fact that this is the overwhelming feeling shared by so many in the profession. We care about our students; we care about our colleagues; and we care about our communities.

We’ve demonstrated all of this repeatedly, by working nights and weekends, bringing papers home to grade, lesson planning long into the evening at home, buying classroom supplies out of our family budgets, bringing food to school for the kid who “forgets” their lunch, taking graduate classes and attending workshops and conferences at our own expense to improve our craft–just to be met with stories of “lazy teachers,” “corrupt teachers unions,” and “selfish government employees!”

We hire teachers for our schools to teach us things–maybe it’s time we listened to them.

We might learn something.