From an occasional series featuring educators’ thoughts on school reopening in Fall 2020.
Alison Hoeman is an ELL teacher in Des Moines Iowa. She has taught elementary school, middle school, and ELL for the past 20 years…. 13 years in 3 US states, and 7 years in 3 foreign countries. In her “free” time, she runs “Des Moines Refugee Support”, an (almost official 501c3) non-profit that supports refugees in central Iowa with food, clothing, and household items, plus sports and activities for the kids. She has about 30 volunteers, most of whom are teachers.
Truth. Schools and teachers are out of things to give.
Society: In the richest country in the world, between 11 and 13 million children live in food insecure homes.
Schools: We can help….. Kids can eat breakfast and lunch at school, and in many places, teachers will spend their own money on snacks. For the most needy, we will send home food for dinner and weekends.
Society: Over 4 million children in the US do not have health insurance or adequate healthcare.
Schools: We can help….. we will bring doctors to do free physicals, eye exams, and dental treatments right at school. In many places, school nurses will spend their own money on sanitary supplies for girls.
Society: Over 17% of US children live without basic necessities.
Schools: We can help…. we will install washers and dryers in schools. We will hand out clothes, school supplies, shoes, and winter coats for free. Many of these items are purchased by school nurses and teachers.
Society: There are 5.5 million reports annually of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect.
Schools: We can help…. schools will be safe places and teachers will be safe people. We will have some counselors, but not enough…. some therapists, but not enough, right in the schools. Teachers with minimal training in trauma will come to school early and stay late to mentor these children. Teachers will spend more time with their students than with their own children. Teachers will cry and sometimes crumble at the thought of not being able to do more for the innocent children in their care.
Society: Almost 25% of US children have parents that work past school hours.
Schools: We can help…. we will install before and after school programs in thousands of schools where kids can get another meal, get help with their homework, and participate in organized activities.
Society: Almost 14 million children in the US are obese.
Schools: we can help… Physical Education classes will be mandatory and we will incorporate lessons about healthy food choices.
Society: The US averages one school shooting every 77 days.
School: We can help… we will do lock down drills and train our students to hide and be quiet. And if need be, teachers will literally die for their students.
Society: We are in the midst of a global pandemic which our government has failed to control. Almost 130,000 Americans are dead and the numbers are rising, not declining, in many places. Because we have chosen to ignore, for decades, the racism, inequality, and discrimination that is at the root of all the aforementioned problems, we now need schools to reopen so that kids can eat, get healthcare, get clothes, shoes, and school supplies, be safe, be healthy, and be supervised. Oh, and so that they can get an education. It appears that COVID doesn’t affect children, so let’s go back to school.
Teachers: We can help…. of course we will help, that’s what we do. We miss our students and want to be back at school with them…. but what about the 25-30% of us that are over the age of 50? What about those of us who are immunocompromised or live with someone who is? What about those of us who are pregnant… we still have very limited data on what COVID does to unborn children. Will you have PPE for us? Will you have hand sanitizer for us? What if we get sick, and don’t have enough sick days to cover the time that we are out? What if a family member gets sick and we need to care for them?
Society: Wow, why are you suddenly being a bunch of crybabies? Before you were always willing to sacrifice your time, your money, your mental health…. and now when we need you, you aren’t willing to sacrifice your health and possibly your life? But 75% of you are women…. and that’s what we, as a society, expect women to do… sacrifice yourself for others.
School Reopening: Closing Thoughts
For decades, schools and teachers have been the band-aid on society’s failings because we care about children…because we know that in society’s failings, it is almost always the children that suffer the most. Schools and teachers are not the responsible for, or capable of, the repair of our broken America. Make no mistake that going back to school has very little to do with education and much more to do with the other social services that schools provide…we need children to return to school so that they are fed, cared for, and supervised…so that their parents can go back to work and participate in the economy.
While it literally breaks the heart of every teacher in America to think of all the children they know who are not eating enough, not being well cared for, and not safe in their home, teachers will not be the lambs sent to the slaughter because no one else cared enough to actually fix the racism, discrimination, and inequality that is at the root of our problems, while schools and teachers were picking up all the slack and holding it all together with a band-aid that is growing very thin.