Jump! How high?

Teachers are by nature long-range planners. So when the school district says “Jump!” they usually respond, “How high? How far? How often? By what measure? Where do we record our progress? Using what platform? When is it due?” But this year is different. In the state of Maryland, Governor Hogan announced that buildings could reopen – two days before school started. Teachers are asking, “Why?” and not getting good answers back. So we have taken to collective action to protest the reopening physical schools, and I’m happy that it seems to be working.

In my district, teachers wrote thousands of letters to the Board of Education before their vote. One member said she’d never felt so much pressure. Good! How can administrators, politicians, parents, and Board members fail to think about teachers when they make decisions to reopen schools? Nobody wants to teach to a computer screen full of little black tiles with microphones muted and cameras turned off. We all want schools to reopen – but it has to be safe. School officials must address teachers’ “what if” questions. 

What if students refuse to wear their masks? What if a student gets sick? What if a teacher gets sick? What if she has no more sick leave? What if we teach Special Education and have to help students with personal care? What happens during lunch when students take off their masks to eat? Who cleans the classroom? What if the ventilation is 40 years old and inadequate in the best of times?

We just finished the first week of online school and I’ve been inspired by my colleagues. We’re adapting to the virtual world like superheroes! In the last few weeks, teachers have turned spare corners into classrooms with professional lighting, microphones, sound systems, and props. Teachers have become the stage crew for their own superhero productions. I think some of my colleagues have even mastered CGI special effects. 

Those in my professional learning community have shown the power of collaboration — helping one another implement a new instructional model, master a dozen new apps, use a new platform, navigate a new database and grading system, adapt a new curriculum, and a live a new schedule. We’ve got multiple laptops open, countless training hours logged, we’ve prepped and met, and it was all worth it, even if we couldn’t really see the students. I have never appreciated my colleagues more.

Everyone wants to get back to school – we yearn for the relationships developed in person. I miss my students so much, and I know they miss school. But here we are, teaching and learning in a global health pandemic, working harder than we’ve ever worked before, doing the best we can.

When politicians make decisions about my working conditions without considering our legitimate health concerns, I just have one final question: what if none of the teachers agree to go back to school? 

Published by

evaksullivan

Eva K. Sullivan teaches English Language Learners in Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland. She was an English Language Fellow with U.S. Department of State during the 2017-2018 school year, working with the Ministry of Education in Laos, Southeast Asia. She writes short stories, personal essays, and has completed a memoir about her experiences as an expat in West Africa in the 1990s.

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