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The Struggle Is Real: Educator Faces School Reopening

Schools and universities across the U.S. are currently preparing their reopening plans for the fall in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. An educator named Josie shares a testimonial on the difficult position many families and educators are in when it comes to schools reopening.

Left Voice

July 23, 2020
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Image: Révolution Permanente

This is just a small part the story of our household and doesn’t include the struggle of coparenting with my older child’s father, trying to safely see our extended family members (many of whom have high risk factors), or daily decision-making about many things (finances, grocery shopping, our experience with crisis online learning, etc.) As far as stories go, this one is lacking in a lot of details, but I think that the broad strokes get the point across. 

My husband was in the midst of a career change when schools closed in mid-March. He is now staying at home with our children, supervising schooling, trying to build skills and promote learning through play. His career plans are on hold. Indefinitely. 

I have continued to work, from home, as a regional coordinator for early learning and inclusionary practices. Meetings, designing and facilitating professional development for teachers, participating in workgroups who are trying to give guidance, building relationships, answering questions, listening to fears, finding resources, being present. All while listening to the demonization of teachers and the public school system and trying to find the mythical work-life balance while working from home. I bought a folding room divider so that my laundry folding station wasn’t visible on Zoom and gave disclaimers at the start of every meeting about having children at home. I listened to my baby cry, my 4th grader struggle and rage-quit online lessons, my husband momentarily lose his cool. I listened to them laughing and playing and singing. And I worked and tried to find the balance. The struggle is real. 

While I cherished having lunch with my family every day and the short commute from the kitchen to my guest room/office, not to mention the ability to wear comfy pants, I have also worried mightily about my children’s development, my husband’s mental health, my own mental health, and basically anything else there is to worry about right now, which is most things! 

My 16-month-old son’s childcare that had been closed since March opened back up on Tuesday. We sincerely thought about sending him back. We made the decision to keep him home for two reasons:

1) We wanted to open his spot for someone who really needed it. We live in an area where childcare slots are hard to find in the best of times. This is not the best of times. We are fortunate to have the option available to us. 

2) We don’t feel that the current and highly necessary health and safety restrictions are conducive to a nurturing, developmentally appropriate learning environment. 

Within two hours of another mother dropping her child off for her first day back, she received a phone call that the daycare was shutting down for two weeks because two employees tested positive for COVID. 

Now, families are trying to decide if they should get their toddlers tested or not. Have you seen a child be tested? It will hit you right in the gut. Families are trying to figure out childcare for the rest of the month because they had committed to returning to work. Now their care providers are closed and they’re out the tuition, because the center isn’t refunding it. The childcare center has bills to pay, too, including payroll.

I hope with all my heart that the staff will make full recoveries. The staff there is amazing and caring and committed and passionate. I hope with all my heart that the necessary health and safety requirements prevented any spread in the center to other staff, students, and families. 

School district officials, educational institutions, unions, teachers, and support staff are all in such a difficult position that has been compounded exponentially by the politicization of whether or not to return to brick-and-mortar, in-person, face-to-face instruction. 

Early Learning providers are torn between providing service to those who need it and shuttering their businesses. Early Learning providers also have disproportionately high risk factors. 

One childcare director I spoke with recently said that she has Decision Fatigue. She’s so tired of trying to make decisions all day, every day about how to keep herself, her family, her staff, students and all of their families safe. She said that it feels like a dance that she has to do, but that she doesn’t know the steps and the music keeps changing. And it’s a high stakes dance. If she missteps, people will get sick. People might die. She said she wishes, some days, that the state would shut childcares down and take the decisions off her shoulders.  

Can you imagine what’s going to happen when school starts if we don’t find a good plan?  If we don’t wake up to the fact that in-person instruction is not possible right now, even though we can all agree that it is the best mode of teaching and learning for most students and teachers, and start heavily invested time and effort into developing robust virtual and distance learning plans… her COVID-19 story will be repeated again and again.

Families are between the rock of sacrificing their jobs, and all that that entails, and the hard place of sending their kids into known danger. And if you’re a parent/guardian and an educator? The gap between the rock and the hard place is even tighter. The politicization of this decision on school reopening has created a false dichotomy. Where are employers, community organizations, private entities, nonprofits? Why is no one else stepping up to relieve the burden on families who are caught in the gap? Instead of pitting families against schools, where is the village we need to raise our children?

This is hard. Transformational change is hard. You know what is harder? Creating a black box, writing “SCHOOL” on the outside, putting the names of your children and everyone who has a role in their care on slips of paper, and waiting to see whose name gets drawn. Oh, and the children draw the names and hope they’re not condemning their friends, their teachers, their families. It calls to mind Shirley Jackson’s dystopian short story “The Lottery.” 

The White House has made it clear that they don’t want “science to stand in the way” of school reopening. Is our society, are our communities, willing to ignore science? What about ethics, humanity, compassion, guiding principles of major world religions? Are we ready to start writing our families names on slips of paper and putting them in the lottery?

I’m not. 

We are asking for submissions from education workers and students on what this dangerous and ill-conceived reopening means to them. Send us your stories and testimonials at [email protected].

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