I am a high school History teacher in Houston, TX. Initially, as the school year started students and parents had the choice to take classes online through Zoom, or attend in person. My classes were more or less 50/50 in person and online. As the district began wrapping up the first semester of the year, all students, regardless of being online or in-person, were required to be on campus in order to take their finals. Despite the consternation of my colleagues, as well as our principal, district policies prevailed. The school I teach at is within a district in Houston that is generally considered “higher income.” Capitalist bourgeoisie from what me and my fellow teacher refer to as “the other side of the freeway” are those who control the school board. My school however is largely made up of working class, proletarian parents, and 99% of my students are Hispanic and immigrants, or the children of immigrants. Their parents are people that are considered “essential workers,” but who the capitalist class still looks down upon. As such they are gone during the day while their children attend classes online. These are not parents who have the luxury of complaining of eye strain while sitting at a desk all day. Parents from the other side of the freeway and the school board members who kowtow to them are the ones who mandated that every student in the district must come to campus for finals, even though every student is taking their finals on their Chromebooks.
While I began the year knowing I was a guinea pig to see how COVID might affect us, as the year continued I started feeling more and more at ease at work while still maintaining protocol. However, this was peppered with unease as every so often teachers would receive emails that would be forwarded to parents stating how a student tested positive for COVID. But we never had a full blown outbreak. I still wore my mask everywhere, and so did students. But as finals week began, and students came in, my anxiety increased. During one of my periods, a full 30 students, as well I, were packed into a classroom. I scanned the room ensuring students did not slack on wearing their mask. None did. Regardless of protocols, there is no way to feel safe having 20 to 30-plus people packed into a classroom.
I understand that the Zoom students are not experiencing education like we would all like them to have. I am a teacher, I want a full class. As I came to campus during finals week I was, admittedly, initially excited to finally see many of my students in-person and have full classes. During the year, at most, I had 10 to 12 students at a time, but those last few days saw me and my colleagues at full capacity. The protocols of mask wearing and social distancing have by and large kept us safe during the semester. But it seems that this all got thrown out of the window, for whatever reason, by the district just for students to take their tests that could have been done from home, that they have been doing from home since August.
I live with just my wife, but every day I am worried that I will pass the virus on to her. I also fear that by the time we return in January, many of us, including my students and fellow teachers, will be out of commission, or worse, because of the district’s mandate that every student attend for finals. While next semester will continue like the previous in having students half online and half in person, if this semester is any indication, end-of-year finals will be like the end-of-semester finals.
While news of a vaccine is positive news, I fear that once people start getting vaccinated, parents and the school board from the other side of the freeway will feel no need to continue to social distance and wear masks and will not only ignore safety protocols, but mandate that schools in the district do away with them. Regarding COVID, there is light at the end of the tunnel, but my students, their parents, and myself, are riding in the last car.