Teachers Better Ask for a Raise
So here we find ourselves with the days of July dwindling, and you all know what that means: It is almost time to send the kids back to school. And even though students living on the East Coast generally have until after Labor Day to bask in the glow of enduring summer, the inevitably will soon be upon us. Normally, we would all be frantically heading out to the mall to engage in a Back-to School shopping spree that vaguely resembles a ravenous shark feeding, but this year offers a vastly different set of challenges than how many hoodies you need to purchase or what type of notebook filing system will work best for your ADD-inflicted teen. This year, we have to decide whether or not we are going to send them back at all.
As a new school year quickly approaches, administrators, parents, teachers, and students all face a genuine decision about what is in the best interest of their communities, their families, and themselves. Of course this decision-making process has become fraught with political division as both sides dig in for what they know will be a contentious battle over how the nation moves forward during this national crisis. I, for one, would like to stand above that fray and take a look at this from a more balanced perspective, one based on scientific evidence rather than rhetoric and political dogma.
Before I begin, though, let me acknowledge the background and perspective I bring to this issue as a teacher and a parent. First of all, my ex-wife falls into the category of at-risk population. Simply put, if she gets the virus, things are gonna get real ugly, real quick. As such, we have elected to keep our kids out of school until there is a significant decrease in the spread of the virus. As a teacher, however, this puts me in a tough spot, as I would have to go to work on the one hand and yet be home for my kids on the other. And while I am pretty darn amazing sometimes, even I can’t pull that shit off. So when I went to my employer and informed them of my situation, they, needing to cut four current staff members in order to meet their dire financial situation, told me that I would not be working there this year.
Now let me say that I am not upset with them at all for doing so. In fact, given what the classroom is probably going to look like this year, they are probably doing me a huge favor. But more importantly, I understand their predicament as well. Schools are under immense pressure right now to open their doors to students, all while their budgets are being slashed due to decreased tax revenue lost while the economy came to a screeching halt. So schools are being told, as they often are, that they will simply have to do more (and in this case, when it comes to meeting a laundry list of CDC guidelines for safely opening schools, I mean a hell of a lot more) with a lot less money.
Depending on where you live, the pressure from the outside community to re-open schools has been overwhelming. In Douglas County, where I work and my kids attend school, over 80% of respondents to the school district’s survey suggested that they wanted students back in the classroom full-time. And believe it or not, I understand their blithe adamance. On a societal level, folks want to open schools because this is vital to jumpstarting the economy. We need workers to get back to their jobs in order to get the economic engine humming again. Meanwhile, on a more personal level, these workers need schools to re-open so that they have somewhere to send their kids while they earn a paycheck that supports their family. Finally, while data has yet to emerge as to just how costly the closure of schools in March was for student learning, we all saw enough from the online virtual learning experiment this Spring to know that most students perform better in the classroom than outside of it.
But the problem with this hellbent fury on opening up schools in August is that the people that are pushing hardest for this aren’t offering up any meaningful solutions but rather leaving the more perplexing question of “How?” up to other folks to solve. Folks like Trump and DeVos have threatened to cut off funding to schools that don’t re-open to in-person learning but have given absolutely no guidance or leadership into the crucial details of how this can be achieved given the continued spread of a disease that threatens to skyrocket out of control. And so you get assholes like Rick Scott, U.S. Senator from Florida, who has said that he wants schools to re-open in a few short weeks but won’t be sending his own grandchildren.
That’s because these legislators know they are unjustly thrusting a Sissyphean task down upon schools without providing them the necessary funding or resources needed to accomplish the task. Even worse, they know that they are sending your kids and teachers into the front lines of a raging war against an epidemic they failed to properly manage. In order to keep the economy running and thus insulate themselves from the political fallout, they are willing to live with the near-certainty of what Pat Gardener, president of the teachers’ union in Sarasota where 76% of residents want schools to re-open full-time, described as some teachers “are going to die.”
Have you ever been to a public elementary school? They are literal germ factories, even in the best of circumstances. How are school administrators going to somehow reshape the structure and culture of their schools virtually overnight in order to meet the cumbersome but necessary guidelines the CDC suggests for keeping students and staff safe for in-person learning? Oh, and don’t forget that they are being asked to do so with significantly less funding than last year. The fact is that they are not.
Schools that re-open full-time are going to be a chaotic mess, and spread of the disease could well become an unmitigated conflagration that spirals out of control. Yeah, teachers should be demanding hazard pay, much as police officers are compensated with. And if there was ever a time for a walk-out to make their point, this is certainly it.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com