“If my dentist office can open up, then schools can too!”: A Teacher’s Response to this and other “Valid” Points

Teachers need to stop being so stubborn and learn how to adapt and be flexible so everyone can go back to school.

Teachers are more than willing to adapt and we do so constantly in our profession. Remember in March/April when we switched to remote learning literally overnight with no prior experience in this area? However, while most teachers are willing to adapt, in this situation the schools can’t afford to properly adapt and that is the problem. Unfortunately they do not have the ability or funds to hire more teachers, add more classrooms, and lower class sizes in order to properly distance the students, supply the necessary PPE, cleaning equipment, staffing, etc to make it safe.

Nobody asked my dentist, doctor, or grocery store if they wanted to reopen. All the essential businesses had to make changes and schools shouldn’t be any different!

It is scary how many people are unaware of this, but- schools are quite different from private businesses. The owners of these other businesses were able to choose when and how they wanted to reopen. They have the ability to limit how many people are in their business at a time, refuse entry to those without masks or who don’t follow the rules, and the funds to make the necessary adaptations to make things more safe (partitions, distancing workers, providing PPE, etc). What other businesses were FORCED to open in unsafe conditions? Are there any doctors offices or grocery stores where the boss expected workers to provide their own PPE? Do these private businesses have to beg patients’ or patrons’ families for their disinfecting supplies? Teachers have been saying this over and over, but I’ll repeat it louder for the people in the back- YOU CAN NOT COMPARE REOPENING PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO REOPENING PRIVATE BUSINESSES AND/OR HOSPITALS.

Daycares opened up and they didn’t have any problems, so schools can too.

While daycares and public schools have more in common than dentist offices and schools, there are still some very important differences to consider. SOME daycares have been able to open safely, because they are private businesses and have been able to limit the number of children allowed to attend in order to properly enforce the health and safety guidelines. If public schools could do the same, there would be no issues. Unfortunately, they do not have this ability or funds to meet the current guidelines.

Also, a quick Google Search is very informative about the outbreaks that have been caused by some daycares reopening.

See: North Carolina Health Officials Report COVID-19 Clusters at Daycare Centers

Coronavirus outbreak closes daycare center in Fayetteville

Oregon Child Care Center Has at Least 20 COVID-19 Cases, Eight of Them Kids

Kid’s need to socialize! And be in school! And play! And make friends! And learn social skills!

Again- YES THEY DO! But we are having to make some tough decisions here and keeping students and teachers healthy and safe unfortunately outweighs missing out on some very important in-person socialization for the time being. Also, please consider what schools will look like and how much socialization, playtime, and learning will be going on if they do open. If you are unable to imagine it, please read The First Day of School: Will they like my mask?

Teachers just want to complain, but I don’t see any solutions being offered!

Well you know how us teachers are. Just always complaining and gossiping and relaxing in teacher’s lounges with all of our spare time. (Please note, I have NEVER actually worked in a school building that even *had* a teacher’s lounge and I usually use my three minutes of “spare time” a day to try to get a chance to use the bathroom.) Anyway here is my personal suggestion for a solution: schools who can not afford to open safely should continue with remote learning until we know more about how we can open safely, create a vaccine, or the virus becomes less of a threat.

It could take years to get everyone vaccinated! There are always going to be germs! We can’t keep schools closed FOREVER! GO BACK NOW!

Correct- we can’t keep schools closed forever, but that doesn’t mean we have to return to in-person learning right now in an unsafe environment. Maybe we’ll have a vaccine in early 2021 and can reopen, or maybe we won’t- that is unknown and we should start working on solutions while we’re waiting. Which leads me to my main point in all of this: Most schools don’t have the necessary supplies, guidance, or plans to reopen safely at this time, so we need to start with remote learning WHILE WE FIGURE IT OUT. And let’s make that decision to start with remote learning NOW, so we can start FIGURING IT OUT instead of wasting our time debating how many children and teacher’s lives we are willing to risk to rush back to in-person learning.

The bare minimum safety guidelines need to be required for schools before we can return, including:

  • mandatory face coverings
  • social distancing of at least 3 feet
  • increased intense cleaning/disinfecting of school buildings
  • ability to provide proper PPE to staff and students
  • ability to acquire proper cleaning/disinfecting supplies for school buildings
  • quarantine rooms for students with symptoms
  • increased nurse/aide staffing for quarantine rooms
  • well-laid out school plans to adjust learning if outbreaks occur
  • guidance to know exactly what to do and who to quarantine and how learning will continue when students/staff test positive

Let’s decide to open with remote learning while schools have the time to consider all options and figure out how to follow these safety guidelines. Let’s decide NOW, so we don’t waste any more time. Let’s decide NOW so teachers can start planning how to make remote learning an even better experience this time around. We did our very best last spring, but we know there were some kinks. Give us (the teachers) time and permission to figure out: how we will assess students remotely, reach all families, provide necessary technology, provide resources to families in need, etc.

Yeah, yeah. Yadda, yadda, health and safety. But I’m a parent and I have to WORK. If I have to stay home with them, I’m going to LOSE MY JOB.

As a parent myself who has struggled with working from home while also facilitating my own children’s remote learning, I really do understand that EVERYONE is in a very tough situation. I also understand that I am very blessed to be able to work from home and that other parents are in a much worse situation than I am with having to try to arrange for childcare while they return to their essential jobs in person. I think everyone would agree- pandemics really suck and are very inconvenient for all involved! However parents all over the country made it work last spring. Yes, it was hard. Yes, it was a struggle. People had to sacrifice. But unfortunately I think all of this might come with the territory when it comes to worldwide epidemics. I also recognize that the solutions that many people found are probably not feasible long term for many families, but as I have already pointed out- no one is suggesting that we continue remote learning forever- or even for just a couple years. I have faith that we can get through this, if we all continue to adapt TOGETHER.

Yeah, but MY JOB.

Please consider- when the teachers and children are all quarantined, hospitalized, or worse because we returned without following the health and safety guidelines, people will also be losing their jobs and unfortunately that may be the least of their worries.

Yeah, easy for you to say, Teacher. You still get that big fat paycheck no matter what. Just like you did when you stayed home and did nothing last Spring.

I continue to receive my salary as long as I continue to do my job. I received my normal paycheck in the Spring when we worked overtime to come up with a plan for how to roll out remote learning to the best of our ability. I received my normal paycheck when I worked throughout the day and night during remote learning answering parents emails, providing support to students, making phone calls and video calls, planning lessons, videotaping my lessons, checking in on families, etc. FOR. THE. LAST. TIME. REMOTE LEARNING IS NOT A BREAK FOR TEACHERS AND IT IS NOT FUN!!! Also- trust me, no public school is paying any teachers one single cent they didn’t earn.

If you don’t want to teach, why don’t you just resign?!

Good suggestion, but I do want to teach- in the way that is currently safest for students AND teachers. I also want to be ALIVE to teach for many more years. I chose this career to make a difference in children’s lives and that’s pretty important to me. Almost as important as doing everything in my power to keep them safe and help them get the best education possible.

UGH calm down, people. Can’t people who want to go back to the classrooms, just go back, and those that want to stay home, just stay home?

Well in most districts, teachers are not currently in charge of making their own decisions about how they will be returning to teach (in person or online). If it was up to me (and probably many other educators), all the kids who are able to have a good at home learning experience would do the remote learning and the ones who need to be at school would come in person, but who would determine this? And would the numbers would work out perfectly that just enough kids can stay home that the amount of kids in person in the classroom would be just enough to be distanced in a safe environment? And can a single teacher provide a wonderful online learning experience and an in person learning experience for all students at the same time? Unfortunately this isn’t realistic and schools can not pick and choose which students get to come in person and which ones don’t.

I’m an essential worker and I had to go back to work and be around people who cough and don’t wear masks and so you should too. Why do teachers think they are so special and should be treated any differently?

Are you insinuating we should needlessly expose children and teachers to these unsafe conditions and prolong/cause more outbreaks, because other essential workers have had to be exposed to people who don’t follow the guidelines? And actually teachers do not think we should be treated differently (despite us being such a group of people known for being demanding, selfish, and clearly in this job for all its’ perks and pay raises). What we are saying is that it would be nice to be treated THE SAME as all of the other businesses that have reopened safely and been able to limit numbers of patrons, limit prolonged exposer to others, socially distance, and be provided with the necessary PPE and other disinfecting supplies.

But I work at a grocery store and I didn’t get sick. And I’m around more people than a teacher would be.

The issue is that you are far less likely to catch COVID from the 25+ people who are passing you by at a distance at your workplace than a teacher would be to catch COVID from one of the 25-30 children he/she is with at school for 8 hours 5 days a week.

So kids can go to Target and birthday parties and water parks and they can’t go to school???

Well (again) you don’t take your children to any of these places in groups of 30 for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. When your children go to these private businesses they should be wearing a mask, distancing, and following the safety guidelines of the business. They are with an adult who can manage their safety better than a teacher could attempt to in a classroom with a teacher:student ratio of 1:30. Oh and most importantly- children should NOT be going to ANY of these places unnecessarily at this time. If people would follow the guidelines, we wouldn’t be currently experiencing the large number of outbreaks and public health emergencies and reopening the schools would not be as much of a risk at this point.

Come on, people. This is just a flu. The death rate is like SO LOW for children. No point living your life in fear. Get back to work. America needs to GET BACK TO LIVING.

There are varying statistics on how low the death rate really is for adults and children. But regardless I AM SO TIRED of the argument that coronavirus doesn’t kill “very many” people. The selfish people who are still spouting this nonsense will never care about that “small percentage” unless it directly affects them or their immediate family. Even if the virus “ONLY” kills .02% of the 60 million students who are in America’s public school system, THAT IS 12,000 CHILDREN. How many children’s lives is it acceptable to risk? And is it okay with you if your child is one of them? And I hate to beat a dead horse, BUT COVID-19 IS NOT “A FLU”. There is also the potential of serious unknown future complications for adults and children who contract this virus.

Let’s shut down ALL SCHOOLS and stop paying teachers! And no school taxes! Those who have kids, stay home and take care of them.

Well thought out plan. I see no issues.

Adults and children will get sick and some will die from this virus whether or not we reopen the schools, so we might as well open up!

Yes, adults and children will still get sick and some will unfortunately die even if schools do not physically reopen, but it is certain that MORE adults and children will get sick and die if schools are forced to open in unsafe conditions. The bottom line is: Teachers and students should not be exposed unnecessarily to this virus that can and WILL BE deadly for some of us.

And last but certainly not least- Let’s defund the teachers and schools!

Ok, but can we please keep our Box Tops?

The First Day of School: Will they like my mask?

It’s my first day of kindergarten! I’m excited and I’m a little scared about it. Will my teacher be nice? Will we get to play? Will the other kids be nice? Will I get germs? Will I learn to read? Will they like my mask?

It’s the first day of school. I haven’t been this nervous since my first year teaching. Will the kids be scared? Will they keep their masks on? Will they be comfortable? Will they think school is a safe place? Will I be exposed to COVID?

Mommy said she wanted to come with me for my first day, but no parents are allowed in the school anymore. I want to cry a little more about that, but Mommy reminds me to be brave. Time to get on the bus! I have a “signed seat” and Bus Driver says I sit here everyday. I sit with another kindergartner. She has brown hair and a pink mask. She seems nice, but she might have germs or cooties. I try to stay in “my bubble” like mommy taught me, but there isn’t a lot of room in the bus seat. I think I’m on the bus for three hours or maybe five, but we finally get to school! Bus Driver says we have to wait until it is our turn to get off, because we can’t all go in at the same time. I really don’t want to wait anymore, but I don’t want to get in trouble like the other boy who tried to switch seats or the two girls who were holding hands, so I sit as quiet as I can.

Here comes the first group of kids to be dismissed from the bus. Deep breath. Fun teacher-themed mask on. Hand sanitizer loaded. Thermometer ready. Smile with your eyes. Smile with your eyes.

Time to get off the bus! I don’t know where to go, but a teacher helps me find my class. Teacher has a mask with smiling apples! I say, “I like your mask!” I think she’s smiling, but it’s hard to tell. I try to go in my classroom, but she tells me to stop and stand still and temperatures my forehead. She says “Looks good!” and I want to go inside, but she says first I have to use the hanitizer. I use the hanitizer and go inside. There’s tables and chairs and even a whiteboard. There is already like a lot of kids in here, so I need to watch where I am walking. Another boy comes up and says something, but I don’t understand him, so he takes off his mask to tell me his name. A girl yells at him and teacher finishes another temperature and then tells Boy to keep his mask on and Girl not to yell. My older sister told me there would be lots of books and a place to play dress-up and beanbags and puppets in kindergarten, but I don’t see any of that stuff. Maybe the teacher hided it for a surprise. Teacher is telling me to hang up my backpack and find my seat. I want to ask her to help me find my name tag, but I am shy and also she is still busy at the door taking temperatures and passing out hanitizer.

Already one mask off and they aren’t even all in the door yet! Deep breath. Crap, the thermometer says 99.8 on this one. Should I double check? That’s not high enough to go straight to the quarantine room, but should I send him to the nurse? He knows I’m hesitating and he’s looking at me with these big scared eyes and all I want to do is welcome him into his classroom, but what if I am exposing the other children?

I think all my friends are here now. It took a very, very, very, very long time, but now all the seats are full. I finished my coloring a long time ago, but Teacher said we had to stay in our seats and wait. I was going to add a blue sky to my picture, but I didn’t have a SPECIAL blue in my crayon box like the boy next to me. I asked him if I could use his blue, but Teacher said we can’t share crayons, ’cause germs.

The kids are finally all in their seats and we are three minutes late for our first scheduled bathroom break and handwashing. We have to go while it is our turn to be in the hallway so we don’t run into another class, but I haven’t even gotten to talk to the children about how to walk in line (four tiles behind the person in front of you) or how to not talk in the hallway, or how to wait their turn for the bathroom, or how to walk carefully in the bathroom, and always flush the school potties, and wash their hands properly (sing the “Wash Your Hands” song). I also haven’t gotten to welcome them to my classroom or remind them of my name or let them introduce themselves to each other. Okay, you can do this, one thing at a time.

Man, school has a lot of rules and everything takes a really, really, really, really long time. Teacher has to call on us one at a time to line up and remind us not to get too close to the person in front of us, but we can’t spread out too much or our line doesn’t fit in the classroom. We have to wait our turn for the bathroom, because we can only go in there with two friends at a time. It gets boring waiting and waiting and waiting all day, but Teacher keeps telling us we are doing a good job. Teacher has to remind a lot of kids to keep their mask on and keep their hands to themselves and not to move their mask down to pick their nose, but she doesn’t have to remind me even once. One boy asked when we get to have fun and Teacher said kindergarten is going to be a lot of fun, but I don’t know if she meant it.

The day is going quickly, but I feel like all we have done is take bathroom breaks, wash hands and go over health rules. This doesn’t feel like teaching. Time for lunch. Deep breath.

I ate my first big kid lunch in a cafeteria! I waited a long time in line, but, it’s okay, I know school has lots of lines. I wanted to pick out a seat next to the boy with the Ninja Turtle mask, but Teacher said we couldn’t sit too close to eat and helped me find another seat. We got to take off our masks to eat, which was good because my ears hurt!

Okay, we made it out of the cafeteria alive and only one kid accidentally threw their mask in the trash can. I’ll have to call the nurse and see if she has an extra. The other kids are already giving dirty looks to the kid without a mask. How do I explain to five year olds that we need to wear our masks, and help others remember to wear their masks, and tell the teacher if someone isn’t wearing their mask, but also be reasonable and polite about it. Another one spilled milk on her mask, but she has an extra in her backpack. Note to self- think of solutions for where kids can put masks to keep them clean and safe while eating lunch.

After lunch we get to go outside and play FINALLY. There is a big, huge jungle gym with TWO TWISTY SLIDES and a pirate on top, but we were NOT EVEN allowed to play there. Teacher said we could play kickball together, but I didn’t know how to play. I guess a lot of my friends didn’t either, because Teacher had to keep telling us the rules. And she also had to keep spraying the ball with her Teacher Spray after every turn. I asked if we can just play tag, because everyone knows tag. Teacher said that is a great idea ‘cept we are not allowed to touch each other.

I’m hot. I’m tired. I’m Lysoling a kickball. At least the kids are getting to play.

I heard a girl cough. I should probably not get too close to her germs.

Did she just cough? Is that twice she has coughed today or three times? Does she look a bit peckish? It’s hard to tell because we just met today. Should I send her to the nurse?

School is a really long day. Mommy asks if I made any friends. I told her I liked the boy with the Ninja Turtle mask, but he doesn’t sit near my ‘signed seat so we didn’t talk a lot. I didn’t learn to read today, but maybe we will tomorrow.

Okay, we made it through Day 1. While I disinfect the tables and classroom, I reflect- Did I keep them safe enough? Did I keep myself safe enough? I tried to quickly correct them every time I saw them touching each other or their faces or playing with their masks. Was I quick enough? Should I have sent her to the nurse? Did they have fun? Do they like school? Will they want to come back tomorrow? I tried to make it fun. I tried to make everything a game.

Did they like my mask? Did I wear it well?

Nobody Asked Me: A Teacher’s Opinion on School Reopening

Everyone has an opinion about how and if schools should reopen for this coming school year. We’ve heard from the governors, the pediatricians, the parents, the education secretary, and the president. Everyone has a “study” and “research” to back up their claims, but unfortunately (as always with decisions made in education) they do not have one very important thing- experience in a classroom. In classrooms filled to max capacity with five year olds who don’t even know how to blow their own noses, where the teacher:student ratio is 1:28 or in some cases even higher. Classrooms where the teachers are already begging parents for tissues, hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes, even in a pre-Covid world. Classrooms and hallways and bathrooms filled with teenagers who think they are invincible. School buildings with no extra rooms, without central air, where there are 4 sinks for over 200 students to use. As a teacher, I do have this experience, so I have many questions about how it will be possible and safe for schools to reopen. Nobody asked me- but since many other professions are giving their opinions about reopening, I thought maybe, just maybe, (it’s a little crazy but hear me out) we should hear from a teacher.

Let’s discuss hand washing. If an average class size of kindergartners is 25, then it would take 8.3 minutes for them each to wash their hands for 20 seconds- not too bad you might think. That’s doable- let’s reopen! Unfortunately that does not account for transition time between students at the sink, the student who plays in the bubbles, or splashes another student, or cuts in line, or has to be provided moral support to flush the toilet, because they are scared. It doesn’t account for the fact that only a few students will be allowed in the bathroom at a time and the teacher must monitor whose turn it is to enter and exit the bathroom, and control the hallway behavior, and send the student who just coughed to the “quarantine room” that doesn’t exist BECAUSE THERE ARE NO EXTRA ROOMS. Where are the students in hallway waiting? In line? All together? Six feet apart? No wait, three feet is okay now. Either way, 25 children standing three feet apart is a line over 75 feet long. Who is monitoring this line? Keeping them quiet, reminding them to keep their hands to themselves?

Another thing about social distancing. Even people who are not teachers have already figured out that there is not enough room in classrooms for all students to be six feet apart. No problem, we’ll just change the guideline to three feet. But what about all of the classrooms around the country that don’t even have room to put all of their student desks three feet apart? What about the classrooms that do not have desks and have tables where students sit in groups instead? Who is providing these classrooms with new socially distant furniture? Is there a budget for this or are schools getting increased funding? LOL NO, they are getting LESS funding. Oh okay, well maybe teachers will just buy it themselves out of their own pockets, as they do so many other supplies. Well I have bought A LOT for my classroom and students over the years, but I can not personally afford to buy them all individual desks. Even if the kids do have individual desk spaces, do they have to stay there all day? Do the kindergartners ever get to come to the carpet area for a story (spoiler alert- it is not big enough for 25 kids to sit three feet apart). Do they ever get to do centers? Sit next to a friend and read together? Can they even share books? I think before anyone gets to answer these questions, or more likely brush them aside, they should have to try to teach 25 five year olds how to sit in a chair on the first day of school.. and then get them to stay there all day every day.

So after we return to school without the equipment and ability to stay healthy and safe and a teacher or student gets symptoms, what then? The teacher or student should stay home to avoid infecting others, right? Well, a few things to consider: 1. Many times the kids are asymptomatic so they will be spreading germs unknowingly. 2. Many kids already come to school sick, sometimes dosed with medicine to mask fevers and symptoms, because parents have to get to work. How do we monitor this? 3. The symptoms of COVID are very similar to the symptoms that young children exhibit throughout the fall, winter, and spring due to common cold or allergies. And if teachers and students really stayed home every time they had a cough or symptom, they would probably be absent more than present. So do we have to ignore certain symptoms? Please clarify which symptoms are okay. 4. Staff are likely to have increased absences due to self-monitoring symptoms. Are they going to have substitutes for their classes? Substitutes can already be extremely hard to find. If we do find a sub- what germs are they bringing in? Where have they been? If they test positive do all schools they have been subbing at have to quarantine? 5. If a teacher or student tests positive for COVID, who quarantines? The entire class? The school building? Do we use sick days for this or is it unpaid? Do we switch to remote learning during the quarantine? Who is teaching the remote learning if the teacher is unable to work due to HAVING THE COVID THAT HE/SHE CAUGHT AT SCHOOL BECAUSE WE CHANGED ALL THE HEALTH AND SAFETY RECOMMENDATIONS JUST TO ACCOMMODATE PUSHING SCHOOLS TO REOPEN WITHOUT THE EQUIPMENT, SPACE, OR ABILITY TO KEEP STAFF AND STUDENTS SAFE?

Yeah, but students need to be in school for socialization! You are 100% correct there. Students need to interact and have human connection and learn social skills. Helping students learn to make friends, share, be kind, love learning, and become good citizens is one of the most important parts of my job. However it’s going to be hard to interact when students have to stay apart and impossible to learn to share if they can’t touch the same supplies. And guess what? That REALLY stinks. Everyone can agree this whole Covid situation bites the big one. Teachers WANT to get back to school- WHEN IT IS SAFE. We want to get back to seeing “our kids” in person everyday- WHEN THE CASES STOP RISING. Teaching remotely is not easy or fun. We want to get back in our classrooms- WHEN WE NO LONGER HAVE TO FEEL LIKE WE ARE RISKING OUR LIVES AND OUR FAMILIES LIVES TO DO SO.

We hear you, parents: Kids like school. They miss school. They learn more at school. They are annoying you at home. Teachers miss school too. We miss the kids (even though, off the record, they annoy us sometimes too)! But our top concern right now is that everyone is healthy and safe. Remote learning isn’t most people’s first choice, but it is a safer solution in the meantime, while we figure out this global health crisis. It is also hard to imagine how much learning would be taking place in the classroom anyway after they wait in their 75 foot long lines to wash their hands for 20 seconds multiple times a day. School days are already crammed full and now we will be adding in disinfecting constantly, monitoring for symptoms, sending kids to “quarantine”, trying to get ahold of parents, dealing with masks, giving “mask breaks”, etc. We were flying by the seat of our pants to make remote learning work last spring and I think teachers across the country did a pretty darn good job! But if we would decide now to make the safe decision for teachers and students and open with remote learning in the fall, teachers could be training and preparing and planning for online education, (instead of trying to open schools and then flying by the seat of our pants AGAIN to go online when it doesn’t work!)

We hear you pediatricians: Kids don’t usually get severe symptoms. They are usually asymptomatic. That is all well and good, but kids can still spread the virus to each other. They might not get sick, but they can take those germs home to their families. They can give those germs to their teachers, who can take it home to their families. Yes, we, as teachers, are used to being the sacrificial lambs. Yes, we protect our students and would take a bullet for them if necessary. We would give our lives to keep them safe when they are in our care. But I am not willing to expose myself to COVID and take COVID home to my family for the sake of having school in-person when that is completely preventable.

We hear you, governors: wE aRe hAVinG a haRd tiMe mAkiNg dEcisiONs. Yes, this is an ever-changing situation and we have all been keeping our fingers crossed, but COVID is not going away, cases are on the rise, the school year is approaching, and we need answers.

We hear you, Secretary of Education (“the first secretary of education with zero experience in public schools”): Blah, blah, blah. Please sit down.

We hear you, President: These CDC guidelines are too safe. Make them less safe and easier and cheaper to follow. Open the schools or I will cut your funding. The health and safety of this country’s children and teachers is more important than the economy. That should be obvious and not a political issue to be debated.

But what do I know? I’m just a teacher. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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