I’ve been thinking about history during the pandemic. I’ve considered what life may have been like for people who braved the expanse of the Atlantic ocean to set up colonies in a foreign land. I’ve thought of pioneers who left everything behind to secure homesteads far away from family and friends. I’ve considered my grandparents who sailed to America never again to see the people that they had loved. There is a loneliness about their choices because there must have been times when they awoke each morning to quiet and sameness that was devoid of contact with other humans. As I spend my days inside my very comfortable home I find it difficult to understand how they made it because I find myself missing people more than anything else.
I would be willing to do without movie theaters, malls, restaurants if I had to give something up, but I cannot imagine being this distanced from people for a much longer stretch of time. There is nothing in this world that means more to me than people and the joy of being with them. I think the vast majority of us feel the same way. We long to sit in a room laughing and talking with friends and family. We realize that our children need to be learning how to build relationships and become independent by joining their peers at school. We are social creatures who need time together as much as we must have air to breathe and food to eat. Even the hunters and gatherers of old moved in search of sustenance in groups. We generally do better together than apart.
Nonetheless I fully understand the dangers of throwing caution to the wind during this time when a novel virus continues to stalk us. It seems that each time we attempt to ignore its power we are burned. Large extended gatherings of any kind only stoke the fires and the energy of Covid-19. Kids and counselors at camp in Missouri get sick in numbers too high too dismiss. Congregants who flaunt social distancing at megachurches begin to die. Families that throw large parties watch as relatives end up in the hospital. The reality is that we cannot ignore the consequences of taking the virus lightly no matter how eager we are to return to our old habits.
We all wish Covid-19 would go away but the virus itself has other ideas. Parents understand that their children are happier and more successful when they go to school. Teachers miss their students and long to be back with them once again. We are not comfortable with the situation in which we find ourselves. Everyone wants what is best for our students and yet we are unsure what that should be. So here we are only weeks away from the start of school and instead of working tirelessly together to plan for the safest possible return to learning for our children and their teachers we are engaged in an endless argument about what we should or should not do. The clock is ticking and our president’s dictate is that every school must open and every school district must figure out how to do that with little guidance and virtually no funding.
I spent the last years of my career as a Peer Facilitator and then a Dean of Faculty. My principals charged me with the duty of making certain that the teachers had every bit of support that they needed to be able to perform their exceedingly difficult jobs. The school leaders for whom I worked believed that if the teachers were provided with a strong support system the students would be the ultimate winners. I was to be the conduit for material and mental assistance for every educator in our school.
I know all too well how dedicated teachers are. I have witnessed the stresses that they endure. Sometimes I worked fifteen hour days to lighten the load of responsibility from their shoulders. My goal was to help them to maintain the stamina to do their magic in the classroom. I did this in ordinary times when there was no specter of Covid-19 threatening them and their students and yet even then sometimes my greatest challenge was to ease their fears. I have wiped away many tears and often chased away the uneasiness that comes from teachers caring so much that emotions overtake them.
At this very moment it is not only the parents who are losing sleep at night wondering what to do when it comes time to send their children back to school. The teachers who anticipate the hundreds of ways that things may go wrong are beside themselves with worry. The possibilities of a reopening of classrooms without sufficient planning gives them nightmares. Educators are running the many scenarios through through their heads and they have more questions than answers. It is in their natures to be fully prepared for any contingency with a well reasoned response but this time in the rush to return the unanswered queries are piling up in their minds. The “what ifs” outweigh the solutions.
Anyone who thinks that returning to school will be a flawless process has never worked inside one. Sadly many of the people providing directives don’t even send their own children to public institutions. Schools are notorious hotbeds of contagion. Even though younger children appear to be less affected by Covid-19 than others they have the potential to take the virus home their parents. Teachers have families of their own whose members may infect them. The possibilities are exponential. The sticky web of potential contagion is enormous and educators understand this better than politicians. Our teachers know to proceed with caution.
I weep for and with the teachers just as I have done so often before. I am their advocate, the person who is supposed to fight for what they need. Being retired does not release me from that responsibility. I will be their voice forever only this time I feel helpless in knowing what to do. I can only urge every single citizen of this country to champion our teachers, our schools and ultimately our children. Call the school district. Call the state education agency. Call the governor’s office. Call the Congresspersons. Call the White House. Do not be silent about the most important resource we have.