For the past six years I have taught in a free preschool program for low-income families in metro Detroit — meaning the preschoolers and their families I advocate for fall under the line of poverty.
I have seen and heard numerous concerns regarding what to do with a child in cases of snow days, strep throat and other school closures. I’ve seen the effects of traumatic events on 4- and 5-year-olds, and I wonder how adverse childhood experiences will affect their health later in their lives. COVID-19 is, of course, an example like nothing before.
This fall, I want nothing more than to return to my classroom to meet and work with the young learners that will come through my door, and I fully understand why there are so many who want schools to open.
Parents need a break from being their child’s teacher, a break from worrying who will take care of their child when they go into work or saving up the money that would go toward child care.
I see and hear the concerns, but who is listening to the concerns and fears of those of us who work in schools? Do our voices matter at this point?
It’s more than classroom concerns
It’s been a growing frustration of mine over the past few weeks as politicians started crowing that schools need to open “for the kids.” It feels as though the adults working in our schools are no longer humans at risk of getting sick. At best, we are glorified babysitters who will care for these children while their parents go back to work.
Schools are more than the single classroom your child sits in five days a week. There are dozens of adults working inside them.
Teachers, paraprofessionals, office staff, cafeteria workers, noon aids, therapists, custodians, social workers: It’s these staff members that make a school a school and not just an empty shell that a child enters five days a week. All of them interact with the student body, and other adults, and all of them are at risk of catching this virus.
I shudder to think of the possible trauma that staff and students would face if a staff member at their school were to contract the virus and die.
Where I work, there is very much a feel of family amongst the staff. I am terrified at the thought of being an asymptomatic carrier and causing a co-worker, or one of their family members, to get sick — an additional stress that can spread to students as well. And while we know now that children have a lower likelihood of catching COVID-19, I don’t even want to think about the heartbreak of any child I work with getting sick and dying.
And what if staff were to get sick? Even if it’s only a tiny amount, who will fill in for them?
There’s already a substitute teacher shortage across the state, and substitutes can work in multiple classrooms or buildings in a week, which would increase the risk of spread. There will be great workers who just do not return to work due to themselves or loved ones having an already compromised immune system.
What about lower income schools?
Long gone are the days where a head lice outbreak was one of the biggest concerns in my classroom. Now I have to navigate lockdown procedures, which go against social distancing; provide resources for families who may have lost jobs, cannot go out or have students with special needs; and make sure my classroom is safe for anyone who walks through my door.
Government officials want schools to open with no plan in place whatsoever, and “thoughts and prayers” won’t protect any adult or child who will enter a school building if they are forced to open.
And I know there will be no additional funding to support CDC guidelines, either, which means that teachers will, yet again, have to either reach into their own pockets or out to others to help supply soap, bleach, sanitizer, tissues and whatever other supplies are needed to make a meager attempt at keeping their classrooms safe.
Plus, there are so many schools that are in older buildings that will not have the proper ventilation to be considered “safe.” There are teachers and support staff that work out of converted closets due to lack of space, which more than likely do not meet CDC guidelines. What are we exposing students and staff to in those places?
As I worry about money for the changes needed to educate in this new normal, a tired cliché keeps coming to mind:
“Teachers don’t teach for the income, they teach for the outcome.”
What will we do when the outcomes are funerals?
Laura C. is a preschool teacher in metro Detroit. Metro Parent is honoring her request to withhold her last name.