I once attended a week long teacher training session during the summer. It’s purpose was mostly designed to plan for the upcoming school year, but also to acquaint us with new and exciting methodologies. As part of the the event we were given homework assignments to complete each evening. One of them involved answering a questionnaire that would then be analyzed to determine our talents, skills, dispositions. At the end of the week a psychologist gave us an overview of the results with great excitement because they had shown that the most frequent characteristic that we teachers shared was altruism. In fact, virtually ninety nine percent of the over one hundred educators in the room had scored higher in this category than any other.
Altruism is defined as “disinterested and selfless concern for the well being of others, behavior that benefits others’ well being at the expense of one’s own.” It is not particularly surprising that a room full of educators volunteering to attend five long days of learning during their vacation time would be unselfishly more concerned about other people than themselves. In truth anyone who lasts more than a few years in the teaching profession has a special kind of heart because the work is often grueling and the pay never quite compensates as fairly as it should. Nonetheless there are dedicated souls who return year after year to provide one of the most essential duties in our society. There is little of more importance for the future of our country than the education of the young.
Teachers overlook a great deal of criticism because of their very natures. It is quite rare for them to think of much more than their students. In fact they have a kind of obsessive concern for the young people in their care, sometimes even long after those pupils have grown into adults. For the greater part of a year they see a group of pupils day after day and feel a sense of responsibility toward each one of them. Their dedication is so all consuming that it is difficult to describe. They think of their pupils on the way to work and before they fall asleep at night. They are as anxious for the safety and success of their charges as a parent would be.
Teachers across America have missed their students since schools closed in March. So much was left unfinished, unsaid. They have grieved at the way things had to be. They have worried about their kids and in most instances worked harder than they would have if the school year had ended normally. They understand well how important it is both academically and psychologically for our nation’s youth to return to a semblance of learning and traditions. At the same time they worry about safety and have a sense that somehow the plans for reopening schools are too vague to insure that everyone will have a positive and healthy experience. Mostly they understand the complexities that have not been addressed and they wonder why they, the very experts who know the dynamics of classroom management, have rarely been consulted.
Our nation’s teachers have many questions and concerns and even ideas that should be addressed sooner rather than later. Instead there is great uncertainty in the vague plans being set forth by education agencies and school districts. Meanwhile the president of our country insists that we must take care of our kids and their parents by opening schools regardless of whatever else may be happening and makes no mention of the teachers. Those altruistic individuals who are the heart and soul of every school in America are rightfully afraid and little is being done to quell their fears. They need answers for their justifiable anxieties that a “fly by the seat of their pants” approach will result in a disastrous mess.
It is going to take time and funding to make our schools places where everyone feels comfortable. Simply screening students and faculty with thermometers and probing questions as they enter buildings each day will take far more time than it sounds and may in the end be ineffective in keeping Covid 19 at bay. The design of classrooms, the numbers of students assigned to one teacher and the management of passing periods all have to be addressed. Cleaning of the building will have to be continuous throughout the school day and will no doubt require large maintenance crews. An on site nursing staff will be critical. As far as I am able to ascertain schools simply do not have budgets large enough to create the necessary changes nor do they have a unified direction to keep everyone working toward common goals.
When the teachers express their doubts and their worries they are not attempting to get out of work or express support for one politician over another, but they are genuinely concerned about the young people for whom they will be responsible. They want and need to know how the needs of everyone will be met. They understand that the efforts will require the support and backing of the entire community or they will be doomed to failure from the start.
Businesses that opened slowly and with regard for the safety of patrons have done well. Those that ignored precautions are part of the blame for the uptick in Covid-19 cases. Why would we ask our schools to open at full capacity with only cosmetic changes? Why do the minimal guidelines feel as though they are the result of a rush to pass the buck of responsibility?
It’s time we called upon our teachers and asked them what they need to make schools places where everyone feels comfortable in returning. Their ideas may require great flexibility and an investment of time and money. Teach are the altruists who continually allow the world to fall on them. They will not take advantage. That is not what they are about. They will use their wits and their skills to create the safest possible environment. It’s time to allow them to lead.