With national leadership urging schools to reopen this fall despite rising cases of COVID-19, classroom teachers are facing bewildering choices. Already undervalued, teachers are weighing the dangers of in-person instruction against the effectiveness of online learning, with little certainty about either. Students are isolated, parents are exhausted, school districts are scrambling to make responsible decisions, yet teachers themselves are being asked to carry most of this burden, risking their lives and their families’ lives to do their jobs. Even a superhero would be daunted. As we approach the start of the 2020 academic year, we asked U.S. K-12 teachers to tell us how they’re feeling and how they’re planning for the year ahead
I’ve done everything for you, but you keep begging for more.
Society, I’ve dedicated decades of my life to educating your children. In mid-May 2000, I proudly finished my first degree and months later began my journey into education. I walked into that space, thinking of all the ways I would enlighten young minds. I wanted so badly to be that teacher that would change lives.
But as years passed, my role started to evolve. I didn’t choose the shift, but you assumed that I needed to take on more duties. I became a big sister with advice sessions. Then it turned into feeling like a parent preaching honor and self-respect. Suddenly I became an on-demand nurse, checking foreheads for fevers and diagnosing coughs. Next, you told me I needed to become a psychiatrist, listening, and reporting reasons for cuttings of wrists and diagnosing threats of suicides. Some kids needed a superhero that could find the basics for survival outside of the classroom. I took on that role as well.
Society, you next asked me to complete paperwork like a receptionist outside of doing lesson plans. To also be treated like an amoeba under a microscope to be constantly examined while my skills as an educator were judged. My body and soul started to feel heavy from all the added burdens, but instead of giving me care, you concluded that I should take on more.
School shootings terrorized your children, and you said I must become a soldier, analyzing intruders and developing escape routes for your children to find temporary safety. I found your request to become your children’s military bullet-proof vest disturbing, given you were asking me to give up my body in combat.
I thought that things could not get any worse.
But then, COVID-19 came in our lives. And of course you have turned to me, and you are demanding more.
You said, “Create a successful new way of delivering education in less than a month.” You demanded that because of technology I should answer your questions and concerns day and night. You sneered and harshly commented that you didn’t have time or the capabilities to do my job and demanded that I go back into classrooms and teach your children.
Society, all I’ve ever wanted to do is teach. All I’ve ever wanted to do is enlighten your children. But because of your previous demands, my body is too tired to take on another role. My soul cannot stand the possibilities of standing over your children’s graves, weeping in sorrow that their lives were taken during this pandemic. My body cannot just lay in a hospital bed, hearing goodbye from my family over a nurse’s phone.
You’ve asked for so much.
If only you would have just let me teach. Maybe then I would have the strength to go on. But now, I have to cry out “No more” and stand up against you.
If only I could have been just a teacher.
Jessyca Mathews is an award-winning educator, Racial, Environmental & Institutional Activist, writer of books, poetry, and blogs, & assistant and supporter toward making good trouble.