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Guest Writer: Emma Martin
In the past 5 months as a teacher during the COVID-19 pandemic, the public has viewed educators in different ways. First, we were seen as heroes. Champions for students who put on our capes and, in mere days, rescued our kids from quarantine with online activities, social Zoom check-ins, driveway hellos, evening tech phone calls to families, homemade letters and drawings, and tireless dedication and heart. More recently, we have been seen as villains. We’re the terrible educators who are calling for online education this fall. We’ve been the chorus shouting from our email, voice mail, and social media to districts and government that one death of a student, one death of a staff member is too many. In doing so, the public perceives us as curling our selfish claws around business and industry, choking the economy as we sit by the pool and fantasize about a year without seeing students in person.
These are just a few of the ways teachers have been portrayed over the last few months. However, through the roller coaster that is this pandemic, one vision of teachers has remained, even grown more powerful, in the public’s eye– our role as self-sacrificing martyrs.
Historically, teaching was one of the few careers that women were allowed to have, establishing the profession as female-dominated and thus diminished in importance by society. It was the teacher’s role to expend excessive time and resources to serve students despite enduring pervasive disempowerment and impossibly low wages. While this attitude of viewing teachers as self-sacrificing martyrs has always been unjust and oppressive, it is not actively threatening our lives.
The self-sacrificing teacher trope is the reason why our districts are chronically underfunded and we are extremely underpaid. It contributes to the extreme lack of cultural and racial diversity we sorely need in our teachers in order to serve all students and families. It’s why school systems are lacking the psychologists, counselors, special educators, food services, arts, transportation, and additional services that we need to provide equitable education for all. It is assumed as a matter of fact that teachers will shoulder the responsibility for solving these systemic problems. It is assured that we will wrap our arms around our school community and sacrifice whatever is necessary to care for the students in front of us. Even if it kills us.The self-sacrificing teacher trope is the reason why our districts are chronically underfunded and we are extremely underpaid. Click To Tweet
And it is true. We will give 110% percent to our students, no matter how we return in the fall. Every educator I know has spent the summer planning, reflecting, and crowd-sourcing ideas to improve the ways we educate all students in the age of COVID-19. At the same time, teachers also need to stand up for our community and our profession. We need to assert ourselves against those who disrespect our professional efforts, dedication, and humanity.
Respecting our professionalism begins with the language we use. On social media, in meetings with administration, with parents we meet on the street, even with each other, we feel the need to qualify our position. We feel required to make a standard, self-effacing disclaimer before we dare present any desire to safeguard our own wellbeing: “Of course I want to be back in the classroom with my kids…however”, or, “It breaks our hearts not to see the kids in person, but…”. Each of these phrases weakens the immense professionalism with which we conduct ourselves and the respect we inherently deserve, as if our dedication to our students should not be a foregone conclusion; as if doubting our commitment to our profession is reasonable and warranted.Until we stop acting as though it is necessary to constantly re-affirm our dedication to our job, others will continue to believe it is appropriate to call that dedication into question in the first place. Click To Tweet
Claims that teachers will be lazy and unreliable if left unsupervised by working remotely are nothing but aggressive representations of misogyny. Capitalism dictates that some resources are more expendable than others; historically and increasingly during the pandemic, teachers are the element that “must” be sacrificed.
My answer to these blatant insults disguised as “reasonable” suspicions is this: by definition, teachers are individuals who have chosen, and continue to choose every day, a profession that requires daily interaction with and nurturing of students. It is an emotionally taxing and often stressful job even when you love it. Interacting with students is the most rewarding part of our job, the reason we are drawn to this profession in the first place. Encouraging others to doubt our commitment by using these “Of course I want to do my job well…” statements is a self-deprecating and demeaning act that encourages those who belittle us. We need to stop legitimizing such beliefs and start respecting our own power and the commitment we demonstrate every day.
So, yes. Of course teachers want to be back in the classroom with kids. It’s a given. It has never been, and never will be, something that needs to be questioned. It’s the best part of our job, and there is no need to reaffirm such a sentiment to others when we demand conditions that will save the lives of our school communities during a global pandemic.