Point of view: Wake County teacher on returning to school

Photo by Julia M. Cameron | Pexels

At the time of this writing, Wake County Public School System has announced its decision to continue with Plan B for reopening schools (part in-person + part virtual learning). Officials have also said, however, that this decision isn’t set in stone, and Plan C (a totally remote option) is still on the table. As other school districts around Wake County — such as Durham — are announcing the plan to start the school year with Plan C, there remains the possibility that Wake County will ultimately make this shift as well.

As a local public school teacher, I hope this is the case, because the truth is I am terrified to go back to school.

Under current requirements, my choices are to either go back to school and teach in person or quit. While I have no physical ailments or underlying conditions that qualify me as being at “high risk” of dying from the COVID-19 virus, the fact is that perfectly healthy young people have died from related illness and complications.

I am told that the transmission rate between children, from adults to children, and from children to adults is so low as to be inconsequential — but I take that information with a grain of salt. I feel that we are also ignoring the adult to adult transmission rate (after all, teachers aren’t going back into buildings full of only children and teens; they are going back into buildings full of other adults as well).

Who is sanitizing the classrooms between classes? Who is taking the temperature of the children? Will school start later because we need time to check everyone’s temperatures every morning? Who will cover my class when a 14 year-old boy jokingly coughs on me and I have to get tested for COVID-19 because that’s what 14 year-old boys do? Who will approach the students who claim a “religious exemption” and ask if they are truly religious or if their parents are making a political statement (this one I can answer — no one, as we’re not allowed to ask those questions)?

The current plan is to have students eat lunch in the classrooms because cafeterias won’t allow for social-distancing, but that means they’ll remove their masks in my classroom while eating — and so will I, because that’s my lunch break too.

Even if my application to teach virtual public schools gets approved, because I’m anxious to be back in the classroom, my school will still require me to come to the building and participate in additional duties throughout the day, such as hall monitoring and lunch duty. Doesn’t this render it irrelevant to request to be apart from students and other teachers?

I am a teacher because I love students, I love sharing knowledge, and I love learning. I am also more than a teacher because our society has designed schools to provide not only education — but also childcare, food, healthcare, safety, counseling, socialization, and knowledge outside of the home.

The reason people are so passionate about children returning to school is because we have designed our instructional institutions to provide all of these things, and there is nowhere else where children (or adults, for that matter) can get all of those services in one building. That is a structural, historic issue — and while it’s something that cannot be solved today, it is a problem that has certainly been exposed by this virus.

It is the fault of past administrators and all of us as citizens that we have relied on schools for more than schooling for so long and haven’t come up with a back-up plan for events like those that are taking place today. That does not mean, however, that the burden of duty lies with teachers to literally put their lives at risk because we as a state and nation don’t have a “Plan B.”

The contributing writer — who requested to remain anonymous — is a public school teacher in Wake County and an activist who loves NC. Do you want to join the conversation? Share your thoughts by contributing to our Voices platform.

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