The back-to-school pictures flooding my social media feeds are much different from last year’s stream of photos of kids holding up signs with their name, grade, and interests.
Instead of showing off new lunch boxes, kids are showing off new masks or homeschool spaces. Some kids are back in physical classrooms, and some are home full-time. My kids will do a hybrid of in-person learning and online learning. There doesn’t seem to be a “right” way to send kids back to school, but plenty of people have opinions on what they think is best. And when folks have opinions, they don’t always lead with logic or niceties. Blame bubbles to the surface when folks feel threatened or wronged, and right now a lot of parents, specifically working parents, feel violated.
We are all frustrated, but let’s at least agree to not point fingers; the teachers are scared, too.
The global health crisis has put a spotlight on how vital schools, aides, and teachers are. Education is necessary, but working parents rely on schools as safe places for our kids to be so we can earn a paycheck. Many folks rely on schools for meals, individualized education programs, and critical social-emotional support. Parents can’t do it alone, and teachers are often key figures in our network of care.
When our networks are damaged or shattered, we lash out with fear and anger. But teachers are not where we should be directing our anger. Be mad at the political climate our leaders have created with their inability to control this virus. Be mad at how little the government seems to do to pick up the slack when we take away education-based resources. And be mad at people who refuse to be team players by following simple social distancing guidelines.
Teachers are creative and up for a challenge, but much of what they are up against is out of their control. State government, health officials, school boards, and administrations set the rules they are being asked to work within. And much of what they are being asked to do is brand new.
Teachers would rather be in the classroom than on Zoom. And if they are in the classroom, they aren’t in love with the idea of extra sanitation practices, physical distancing reminders, and the need to wear a mask all day. They are playing the role of teacher and student. They are uncomfortable, nervous, and angry, too. They want to do their jobs and do them well, because they not only love what they do but know how much they are needed.
The current administration recently declared teachers are essential workers, but don’t mince words. Of course, teachers are essential. They always have been. By using this term in the middle of a global health crisis, teachers are being bullied into working in dangerous conditions they never signed up for and without proper protection or support. The qualification means teachers exposed to the virus but without signs of symptoms themselves can continue to show up in the classroom without needing to quarantine for the recommended 14 days. Teachers have every right to do what they need to in order to keep themselves, their students, and their own families safe. Teachers may be superheroes, but they are humans who are just as scared as the rest of us.
Many teachers are also playing the role of parent and caregiver. If they don’t have care for their own children, they can’t show up for ours. And if they or someone in their family has risk factors that make them more susceptible to the dangers of the virus, why should we expect them to risk their lives because we are frustrated by the systems currently in place? None of this is ideal for parents, students, or teachers. Parents aren’t to blame for their lack of options, and teachers can’t be blamed for not being one of them.
Working from home — or out of the home — while also homeschooling or assisting our kids with distance learning feels impossible. Sending kids into the classroom feels scary and sad. Parents aren’t just worried about their children’s physical health; they’re worried about their mental health, too. These feelings can easily turn into complaining about the lack of support they are getting from schools, especially if extra care is needed because of special education requirements. Everyday inequities are bigger and heavier right now, and anger is justified when our kids don’t have access to what they need and deserve. We want fairness. We want reliability and security.
Slamming our teachers or judging them for decisions they make that don’t benefit us in the way we want isn’t the way to go, though. Teachers were not paid enough or given the resources they need to do their jobs before the health crisis started. They certainly aren’t paid enough now, and many are struggling to find the personal protective equipment they require to safely return to the classroom.
There are so many ways kids are tackling the new school year, but the one thing we can all do is give our teachers a break. Ask what they need from us before we place unrealistic demands on the educators who are doing their best with the crappy situation we are all trying to navigate.