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Dave Grohl has a new audio edition of his Dave’s True Stories series, and you can hear it on YouTube or read it on The Atlantic. (Earlier editions are in print on Instagram.) Dave opens with the fact that he left school in 11th grade to become a musician. He said he still has nightmares where he has to take tests unprepared. Then he talks about his mom, a former public schoolteacher who raised two kids as a single mom and worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. He gushes about what a great teacher she was, and how students tell her she changed their lives. My parents are both retired teachers and I could relate to his stories about his mom so much. Dave talked to his mom, now 82, about her concerns for teachers. The crux of the essay is about the fact that people with absolutely no knowledge or experience in teaching are making careless and dangerous decisions that will affect children, teachers and staff. This reminds me f the story I covered yesterday about the main Florida teachers’ union suing Gov. DeSantis for reopening schools with no plan.
When it comes to the daunting—and ever more politicized—question of reopening schools amid the coronavirus pandemic, the worry for our children’s well-being is paramount. Yet teachers are also confronted with a whole new set of dilemmas that most people would not consider. “There’s so much more to be addressed than just opening the doors and sending them back home,” my mother tells me over the phone. Now 82 and retired, she runs down a list of concerns based on her 35 years of experience: “masks and distancing, temperature checks, crowded busing, crowded hallways, sports, air-conditioning systems, lunchrooms, public restrooms, janitorial staff.” Most schools already struggle from a lack of resources; how could they possibly afford the mountain of safety measures that will need to be in place? And although the average age of a schoolteacher in the United States is in the early 40s, putting them in a lower-risk group, many career teachers, administrators, cafeteria workers, nurses, and janitors are older and at higher risk. Every school’s working faculty is a considerable percentage of its population, and should be safeguarded appropriately. I can only imagine if my mother were now forced to return to a stuffy, windowless classroom. What would we learn from that lesson? When I ask what she would do, my mother replies, “Remote learning for the time being.”
Remote learning is an inconvenient and hopefully temporary solution. But as much as Donald Trump’s conductor-less orchestra would love to see the country prematurely open schools in the name of rosy optics (ask a science teacher what they think about White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s comment that “science should not stand in the way”), it would be foolish to do so at the expense of our children, teachers, and schools.
Every teacher has a “plan.” Don’t they deserve one too? My mother had to come up with three separate lesson plans every single day (public speaking, AP English, and English 10), because that’s what teachers do: They provide you with the necessary tools to survive. Who is providing them with a set of their own? America’s teachers are caught in a trap, set by indecisive and conflicting sectors of failed leadership that have never been in their position and can’t possibly relate to the unique challenges they face. I wouldn’t trust the U.S. secretary of percussion to tell me how to play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” if they had never sat behind a drum set, so why should any teacher trust Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to tell them how to teach, without her ever having sat at the head of a class? (Maybe she should switch to the drums.) Until you have spent countless days in a classroom devoting your time and energy to becoming that lifelong mentor to generations of otherwise disengaged students, you must listen to those who have. Teachers want to teach, not die, and we should support and protect them like the national treasures that they are. For without them, where would we be?
I was listening to MSNBC last night and one of their experts was saying that band, maybe art and of course most sports need to be postponed for now too. I hadn’t even thought about band and of course there are so many other extracurricular activities that will need to be decided on a case-by-case basis. My son’s school hasn’t decided how to handle sports and is thinking of offering some low and medium-contact sports, like cross country and maybe soccer. It’s not just whether kids should be offered the option to go back to class, there are so many other considerations that people who don’t work in schools can’t anticipate.
In his CNN interview, Florida Education Association president Fedrick Ingram said that he wanted to work with DeSantis to come up with a plan for getting back to school. Teachers aren’t getting PPE, they don’t get overtime (but police sure do) and they don’t even get needed classroom supplies in most cases. They’re expected to educate our children for eight hours a day, and now they’re being told to put their lives and their family’s lives at risk, for very low pay, with virtually no support and with no plan. Schools are scrambling to come up with their own. People in charge, like DeVos, are actively working against them because she has a heavily vested interest in making public school fail. Others, like DeSantis, are spouting lies claiming children don’t spread covid because they’re trying to suck up to Trump. It’s despicable. I hope the unions push back where they can and I hope that the growing awareness of massive police budgets can help teachers get their fair cut too.