Teachers at the Crossroad of Life and Death During COVID-19 Pandemic
All over the world, the refrain that things will never be the same as before has been heard over and over again. This is now a fact of life. COVID-19 has an incriminating track record. It is destroying economies and lives alike. Among the destroyed, we find our education system, with our teachers at a crossroads.
There are those who just want to get their lives back on track (whether it is dangerous or not), and then there are those who are justifiably scared and cautious. Caught in the middle are millions of children deprived of education, whose young lives might be forever impacted if we don’t sort out our current education crisis. To tackle this problem, what will we choose to do? Should parents allow children back to school? Do teachers want to go back to school?
These questions cannot be discussed without some input from the teaching community. I have consulted with three teachers across my home state of North Carolina to provide us with insight into the current situation.
*Placeholder Names: Due to the sensitivity of the situation and fear of reprisal, the actual names of the teachers consulted have been withheld.
TEACHERS & CHILDREN GOING BACK TO SCHOOL
*LADYBIRD suffers from an immune compromising illness that places her in a high-risk category. She believes that there is little sense in opening schools but agrees to the continuation of education.
*EDUPRO feels that there are very few pros for teachers going back to school. The only pro that he regards as important is that parents can go back to work with their children in the hands of the school and back into a regular lunch program.
*DEDICATED is torn between the issues. With some 25 years of teaching experience behind him, he feels that most students should be able to return if all safety requirements are met, but he has some doubts about the rest. He cites school lunch programs being of high nutritional value and greatly appreciated as another factor when the reopening of schools is considered.
In addition to the expressed opinions, the following should be considered as well:
- Studies carried out in Italy and Iceland indicated that nearly no children under the age of 10 tested positive for the virus. While these tests indicated that younger children are far less likely to contract the virus, it stands to reason that older children are more at risk of contracting the virus. Should children under 10 be kept at home, or might it be safe to reopen schools for the younger ones? In asking this question, one should always bear in mind that younger children could still spread the virus to parents, friends, and teachers alike.
On the other hand, many teachers, notably those who are older and have chronic diseases, will be in the high-risk category.
- Teachers will be able to increase their earning potential. Most government jobs are not in jeopardy, but, apart from their earning potential, many teachers want to advance their careers, and that can’t be done by sitting at home.
- Teaching is a way of giving back to the community and a passion, for most, in the educational environment. At this time, though it might be safer for teachers to stay at home, we also have to account for practicability. Parents need their children to be at school so that they can go to work and are able to pay the bills.
- Unfortunately, modern society has, over the past 20 years, made it nearly impossible for only one parent to be the breadwinner. Both parents need to earn an income to support modern living standards. In some countries, earning an income will ensure the livelihood of parents and teachers. If no one can work, where will the money come from to take care of oneself and one’s family? Will schools and the government continue to pay teachers’ salaries if they don’t return to work?
In countries such as India, we have already witnessed large numbers of layoffs of teachers without pay or benefits.
TEACHERS & CHILDREN GOING BACK TO SCHOOL
*LADYBIRD is of the opinion that the cons outweigh the pros by far. An additional factor is old school infrastructure with poor to nonexistent ventilation. There is also insufficient PPE and the near impossibility of keeping children away from each other. All of these add up to a recipe for disaster.
*DEDICATED feels that an added problem will be getting children to comply with wearing masks and refrain from touching one another. *EDUPRO takes it a step further, stating that enforcing the new rules, for instance in school buses, and the added stress and responsibilities placed on teachers and other departments could lead to burnout.
Of course, there are myriad cons that won’t be resolved immediately, but one has to start somewhere. There are also the following issues:
- Suddenly, the children become the teacher’s responsibility. You may be under the impression that that was true in the past, but it is not beyond reason that parents will expect the same with COVID-19. The fact that children are back at school will not stop the spread of the virus but may substantially increase the risk to teachers, bus operators, and parents.
- The logistical nightmare facing teachers and the educational field in general is the endless preparation before the start of each school day. Cleaning and screening may add another two or more hours to the average time a teacher will be spending at school before completing the day’s workload.
DANGERS FACING TEACHERS GOING BACK TO SCHOOL
The dangers facing educators are real and will be a matter of life or death to a lot of them. Let us take *Ladybird’s situation, for instance: She has an aging mother in her care who is at an even higher risk than herself. Has provision been made for teachers who may crack due to that kind of stress?
- The biggest danger facing teachers and children is in returning to a school without proper safety precautions and sufficient PPE.
- The mental health of children, teachers, and parents is at stake. Everyone lives in fear of the dreaded virus but is facing a catch-22 situation. No work means no income, but children at school may contract the virus and infect their parents and friends. The list goes on and on.
- *DEDICATED feels that there are even parents who will take a chance and send sick children to school, with predictable consequences.
- Can children be expected to keep a social distance at all times? Children will be children. Will kids be able not to touch each other or play physical games with each other? This may be the biggest issue facing teachers and could place an unreasonable burden on them.
- With a new breakout, what will the legal implication be for schools and what repercussions will it have on the school and teachers? The bottom line is that most states and countries have laws in place for those who don’t comply. Is the buck going to stop at the local school board, or will teachers be facing challenges on a state and federal level? The answer may be yes in both instances, and that may just reinforce the reluctance of teachers to go back to school.
- Teachers are not immune; they may get seriously ill or even die. One wonders whether schools have plans in place for such eventualities. The question arises, will the education system be able to afford a loss due to illness or death of maybe 5% of educators? What percentage will be politically acceptable?
- What will be the impact of a teacher’s death on his/her students?
PREVENTION AND PRECAUTIONS
- Classrooms and all surfaces will need to be disinfected and cleaned on a regular (daily) basis. Teachers going back to school should feel safe to return to at least a properly cleaned and disinfected facility every day.
- Washing hands should become a way of life. Teachers and children should have the necessary hand cleaners available. Remember that they contain a high level of alcohol, which presents dangers on its own. Alternatively, soap and water do the trick, too.
- Children and teachers should be taught that there is no stigma attached to contracting the virus and they can safely report when they “feel ill,” go home, and return when they’re healthy again.
- Teachers such as *EDUCATED suggest that no visitors should be allowed on school grounds. Additionally, he wonders whether there will be enough educators present to enforce the additional rules and regulations.
Well, as they say, the alternative is too ghastly to contemplate. The risk of spreading the virus should be minimized as far as possible. It will most probably not be stopped, but the education of children is of utmost importance. The same applies to our teaching community because, without them, the future will be bleak.
Teachers *LADYBIRD, *EDUPRO, and *DEDICATED all have a common alternative in mind. They all feel that the future will be online learning.
What alternative will there be for all our current teachers should online learning be implemented? Massive job losses will add to the immense problems the world economy is facing.
SO, WHAT OTHER OPTIONS DO WE HAVE?
- Remote online learning is favored by most teachers, but it will probably be a solution only to those who can afford it and have the discipline to comply. Furthermore, not all students live in privileged circumstances or have the means to participate in online learning.
- Educators think that schools and communities that are able to implement remote learning should do so, and those who cannot should be assisted to do so as far as possible. A reduced number of children at school will considerably reduce the danger of another outbreak.
- Meals and the sharing thereof are another problem facing schools and one which places an even larger burden on teachers. The solutions may not be satisfactory to all, but should food not be allowed only at the end of the school day? It is going to be a tough decision that is going to have some far-reaching consequences, whichever way it goes. School management and communities, as well as teachers, should be involved as the meals being provided at school may be the only food some children are likely to get on any given day.
- District-related data should be obtained and communicated to all concerned, and protocol should be implemented and adjusted at regular intervals.
*LADYBIRD is of the opinion that the virus may be with us for the next two to three years, at least. *DEDICATED thinks that with current technological advances, the future is closer than we think.
All in all, the future looks bleak enough, but without teachers and an uneducated generation, it will only become bleaker. Like our police and emergency agencies, teachers and their jobs have moved to the front lines of our defense against the virus. Teachers can make a difference, and the value of their contribution may only be appreciated in ten to twenty years’ time. Let’s support them in making a difference to our children, who are the future.