In the spring of 2017, I was a kindergarten teacher. It was my privilege to fill 27 precious five-year-old minds with new information and show them how fun and rewarding learning could be. We celebrated baby steps and milestones each day; their enthusiasm giving me fuel even when I was exhausted from lengthy conferences and analyzing test data. My students and I looked forward to spending our week together and took pride in the community we were building.
One afternoon, the entire school had an active shooter drill (sadly, not our first). This meant that all classroom doors were sealed shut, no one in or out. The lights were turned off and our happy learning environment that I worked diligently all year to create went pitch black. As my students and I huddled together far from the windows, I searched for a tone that was serious but didn’t ignite fear. They attentively sat in silence and followed every direction that I whispered, reassured that I would protect them from bad guys.
In the darkness, I rubbed my pregnant stomach and said a quiet prayer for the baby I would be meeting in less than two months. I also let my thoughts wander to my 20-month-old daughter waiting for me to come home safely from work each day. Although there was no imminent threat to my life because this was a drill, it was in these moments that reality sat in and I began to resent my role as a teacher.
Ten years of experience in early childhood education did not prepare me to be a human shield. Why weren’t there other measures in place to ensure I was never forced to sacrifice my well being and my family for my students?
It became very clear to me that as an educator I would constantly be asked to choose between my personal life and my students. It’s a demanding profession that requires the highest levels of commitment and dedication, often to the detriment of other priorities.
I chose my family, and that was my last year teaching.
Now, my oldest daughter is registered to begin kindergarten this fall at a nearby school. I’m filled with all of the nervousness of a parent, but I can’t help but put myself in her future teacher’s shoes. He or she will have an entire life outside of their classroom with loved ones who depend on them each day. I’m sure they will want to foster growth and learning for their students without having to mask their incessant fear and rely on hand sanitizer to make it to dismissal.
As we wait for an official decision from the district, my mind cannot comprehend how proceeding face-to-face five days a week in the middle of a deadly pandemic is even an option. Literally, nothing has improved in the last four months, and we can’t expect all teachers to fearlessly walk back into their classrooms as though circumstances aren’t worse than when schools closed in March.
Although I’m sure that plenty of teachers would dutifully return to their classrooms if asked to, I simply can’t envision a scenario where it’s appropriate to ask them to put themselves in harm’s way to educate our children.
I recognize that not all families are equipped for their children to learn from home, and I wish that I knew an ideal solution for everyone. But let’s look for a creative plan that makes sense for the majority and doesn’t endanger our educators. Perhaps a compromise that includes options for face-to-face and e-learning would be best. I’m hoping that this opportunity is used to set an example for our kids and show teachers how much their skills, opinions, and lives are valued.