I’ve been asked my opinion by so many people that I’m just going to put them all down here. This is my opinion only and reflects my personal situation only, so please don’t tear me apart in the comments. I’m merely answering what I’ve been asked to answer. Let’s title this:

From the Heart of a Teacher:

I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. From my earliest days in kindergarten with Mrs. Miller, I wanted to be a teacher. My parents even bought two old school desks and my sister and I would play “school” at home. In 8th grade, I got to be a “teacher for a day” and I loved it. I babysat a lot. I never wanted to be anything else. I love school and everything about learning. I started teaching summer school in June 1987, a mere two weeks after graduating from college and never looked back. In the 33 years since then, I feel I’ve successfully mastered the art of teaching. I consistently receive “excellent” reviews and I’ve mentored many young teachers over the years. I even earned an Ed.D. in Disability and Equity in Education in 2019 so that I can have a second career after I retire from active teaching in 2022. I have a website and a consulting business. You can look it up if you want to.

My focus for the past 27 years has been at-risk and high need special education students. When I say high need (because all special education students are not the same; hence the “I” in IEP), the students usually have diagnoses such as ADHD, Autism, Depression, mild Learning Disabilities, Trauma, Anxiety, Medically Fragile, Traumatic Brain Injury, etc. I run a resource program designed to support their needs and help them be successful in their general education classes. Many of my students call me “mom” because I am their “school mom”. I maintain contact with them for years and years after they graduate because I become a friend that continues after high school. I get calls from college for help on papers. I get calls just to talk. I’ve been a reference for many resumes. Sometimes I don’t hear from a former student for a number of years, but then the phone will ring and it will be a student calling just to update me on his / her life. I strive to be “that” teacher. The one that makes such a difference in a student’s life that they remember me fondly forever.

Across my career, I have experienced students dying, students’ parents dying, colleagues dying. I was teaching on the day Laurie Dann murdered first graders; on the day of Columbine and Parkland and every other school shooting that has occurred. I was in the classroom on 9/11 helping students through it when I was worried sick about my own sister living in NYC. I have seen how teaching has had to adapt to the advent of school shootings and Live Shooter drills. I have had to keep students safe (and quiet) while we were in a situation which required a school-wide evacuation. Everything I do in the classroom considers the social and emotional health of my students.

I’m prepared in the event of a school shooting (and how sad is that?) I’m not prepared to play roulette with Covid-19 and the lives of my students, their families and my colleagues; let alone my life and that of my family. I never thought it would come to this. Who knew we would have a global pandemic? I want my students to have a future and a life worth living…I’m protecting their lives. We all have to come out of this alive for there to be a future. I’m not willing to risk any more lives.

Do I want to return to my classroom? Yes, of course. I would love to return to normal. The problem is we are not living in “normal”. The spring was at best, crisis education. I did the best I could to meet the needs of my students. Sometimes I talked to them daily. My entire day flew by as I tried to assist the over 70 students I see daily in my resource with an extra focus on the 20 students on my caseload for whom I case manage their IEP’s. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked.

I totally recognize that I am lucky and privileged. I am not a single parent. I do not have young children. I am an employee in a school district that is taking this seriously in a state with a governor who is also taking it seriously. I have not been told what to expect yet. I am still waiting. But I’m 55 years old and I have had some health issues to deal with in the past decade. I have a low immune system. When the flu season hits school, I always get sick. It’s almost a joke in my family, but I always get sick on winter vacation. I’ve been sick on winter vacation all over the world. I have already lost one parent. My remaining parents (all 3 them, including my in-laws, are in their 80’s and each of them are compromised with health conditions). My mother is a cancer survivor. I’m losing sleep over this.

I will not take the risk of contacting or spreading this disease when I can do my job from home. When Fortune 500 companies are not returning in person, then schools should not either. When School Boards are still meeting on Zoom, then schools should operate remotely. I have seen the social emotional effect of trauma and loss in students’ lives. This would be worse. If we open schools and are unable to keep them open or people start dying; I don’t want to be a part of that.

Teachers should be able to start planning for the semester. If it is all remote, then we can put our energies into making that type of class the best we can for our students. I am excited that my district purchased a Learning Management System. That will help a lot to improve remote learning. What happens when we go back to Phase 3 or worse, Phase 2? I think going back and forth between remote and in-person school will be harder for students, families and teachers than just committing to remote now. I’m not prepared to write my will or do a POA of health care to my husband as I prepare for the start of school.

Is it ideal? No, of course not. But even in the best case scenario, face-to-face learning will not be the same. It can’t be — not right now. Yesterday, I was asked what I would do if forced to return to the classroom in person. I’m also lucky because my resource would be the last to return in person. I can put off this decision for awhile.

I keep thinking about my Uncle Herb who lived 3 years in hiding during the Holocaust. He was in a 9' x 9' room with 12 other people during ages 10–13 …very formative years. They shared the small amount of food that was available. He grew up to have, not one, but 2 very successful careers. He was a fashion designer and an incredibly successful and award winning Architect…a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright (and one of Frank’s favorites…not easy to do). Not having a formal education during those formative years did not hurt him…he was a successful man with 2 loving marriages, and 3 amazing children. We should not worry so much about our kids’ education during this time…we should just work hard to keep everyone alive.

However, it occurs to me that schools will need a lot of substitutes. You can’t call ISBE right now because they’re working from home (oh the irony). However if you’re college educated and looking for a job: here is the link to ISBE short-term substitute information: https://www.isbe.net/Pages/Short-Term-Sub-Teach.aspx

Wait. What? You don’t want to be a substitute in a classroom for a teacher who has contacted Covid-19 or is in quarantine? Why not? Don’t feel safe? Hmmm. I guess then you should ask yourself why it’s okay for me to return to the classroom if you don’t want to be there yourself. I love my career. I love my students. I want to return to the classroom…but not like this.

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