It’s all any parent can think about: what will we do this fall if schools reopen? Will schools reopen? If not, what will happen? How will we go back to work if the kids are home all fall? How will we sleep knowing our kids are in schools and potentially getting sick?
I’m not writing this as someone with answers to any of these questions, because I have none. I am in a unique position in that I’m a teacher AND a mom, so I am worried about the implications of going back into the classroom or staying home from multiple perspectives.
I’ll start from the perspective of a teacher, and I’ll tell you that unequivocally, every teacher I know misses their students dearly and can’t wait to see them again in person. Teaching online is totally different, and I would have a hard time teaching students that I don’t have pre-established relationships with like I did in the spring. I’ve been teaching summer school, and it’s been hard to bond with students over Zoom. In the spring, my students told me they missed me and they missed school every day last spring, and that broke my heart because I know they truly did and I missed them too. I know that many students will have serious gaps in their learning this year due to the lack of rigor in the spring semester, and those will be hard to make up online at home. Distance learning for many students also means a lack of access to special services provided by the schools, including speech therapy, occupational therapy, English language instruction, counseling, and so many more that this entire post could fill them. Schools do so much more than just offer academics.
I also understand the need that parents have to go back to work, and it’s not a need like they’re bored at home and need to get out. It’s a need like if they don’t go to work they can’t feed their families or have housing. So if my students do distance learning, for many of them that means staying home alone, even from very young ages. Other students are trying to stay quiet all day while their parents work, and that means video games or TV. This is not a judgment on parents who are truly just doing their best (Lord knows my kids have had their fair share of TV over the last few months!).
BUT, as a teacher, I personally have concerns about my own health and well-being, as well as the health of my own children. While I am blessed to be very healthy, I have also not been around 23 germy kids in a small classroom for the last 4 months. I know there are CDC recommendations as to cleanliness and sanitation, but I have worked at a public school long enough to know that those recommendations are contingent on funding and personnel, two things that are in short supply even during non-pandemic times. Realistically, a lot of that burden will fall to teachers, and I personally feel like there will be enough on my plate without trying to keep my classroom coronavirus-free. What will happen if I get sick, or a student gets sick? Will we all quarantine for 14 days? If so, what happens when I run out of leave (I get 10 days)? What will happen to my own children if I get a serious case? As a single mom whose family lives on the other side of the country, who will take care of them? And, selfishly, who will take care of me? What will happen if I have to take weeks of leave and lose my paycheck? These are questions that no one has an answer for.
In my house and the houses of most teachers with their own kids, if we go back to work, my kids will go back to school. I don’t have the luxury of a decision, and neither do many other families who count on paychecks that come from jobs that require them to leave the house. I fear that the decisions about whether to send students back to school or keep them at home distance learning will come down to the “haves” and the “have-nots”. And while I don’t begrudge anyone that has the ability to make that kind of decision (because 3 years and a divorce ago, that would have been me), I do think that it will make the socio-economic gap more glaringly obvious.
I feel deeply for leaders making decisions about what to do in the fall because there is truly no “good” or “right” answer. I also feel deeply and pray for parents that are trying to make decisions for their own families. I know we will come out of this one day stronger, and I hope that in the meantime, we can just be kind to each other knowing that we’re all overwhelmed trying to choose between two imperfect options.