Education, Featured Post — February 22, 2021 at 8:00 pm

What Will Happen When All The Teachers Are Gone?


I really tried to see “both sides” of this “reopen the schools” debate for the longest time…I know how hard it is to try to get anything done with little kids at home in normal times–multiply that by 100 during this pandemic. And I get the frustration that comes with trying to juggle work, bills, child care, and all the other responsibilities of day-to-day life, and then have big pieces and chunks of your “support system” just torn away–and not for a day or two, but for months, with seemingly no end in sight.

And add to that the stress and tension of uncertain income streams, business shutdowns, work from home arrangements, not being able to see your family…it’s bleak out there right now.

So I get it…

That is, until a school reopening advocate told me that teachers who were working virtually were nothing more than “curriculum couriers,” and if we weren’t careful we’d work ourselves right out of our jobs–that schools would just put kids in big rooms with “facilitators” and our lesson plans, and get rid of all the teachers who weren’t “willing” to “get back to work”.

That really shook me, on multiple levels.

1. The carefully constructed “mask” worn by so many in this camp (“we love our child’s teachers, but doctors and nurses are working…”, or “I’m trying to be patient with my community’s teachers, but I’m losing my patience…”) came crashing down–and despite their objections when called out, these folks are absolutely demonstrating that they see teachers as “expendable,” and “collateral damage,” and view our health and safety as secondary to their need to find a place to send their children during the day.

2. For all the bluster about “learning loss,” and “children’s mental health issues,” the real concern here is with child care.

3. I’m left wondering why people who have so little respect for teachers and what we do (i.e., “curriculum couriers,” “lazy union thugs,” “must be nice to have your summers off”) are so eager for us to take care of their children.

At its core, what’s happening right now is that teachers are being bullied into going back to their classrooms before it’s safe: “If you loved your students as much as you say you do, you’d go back to work!”–ignoring that teachers have been working harder than ever in this pandemic, and are exhausted, frustrated, and demoralized.

We are already seeing instances of teachers getting sick, and dying; some because they were forced back to work before being fully vaccinated. And more teachers will get sick or die because they have no other choice–they can’t lose their health insurance coverage for their families, or need the salary and their districts are not giving them the option to work virtually.

But a lot of teachers just aren’t going to do it–they are close enough to retirement they’ll just walk away, or they have a partner or spouse who earns enough so they can take a year (or more) off.

I know of at least 10 of my former students, all amazing, wonderful music educators, who have either taken a leave of absence or simply quit their jobs–and if schools force teachers to return before they feel safe, there will be a lot more.

And what will these “return to school” folks do then, when there aren’t enough teachers in the schools–whether they are “open” or not?