Co-written with guest bloggers Elizabeth Buchmann and Christina Bustos
Tonight, we expect to hear whether our district will continue requiring masks in school or make them optional. The statewide mask mandate in K-12 schools has been revoked.
Tonight we speak directly to teachers.
Some of us have been teaching remotely all year in isolation.
Some of us taught more students because our colleagues needed to stay home.
Some of us returned to the classroom because our mental health was more fragile than our physical health.
Some of us fell victim to decision fatigue and simply complied with continually changing policy.
Some of us felt that in order to fulfill our calling, we needed to be with our students.
All of us continued to do the hard job of teaching.
Whether you are in your first, fifth or 30th year as a teacher, this will probably have been the most difficult year of your career. When policies make conditions harder, we continue to teach through it all.
We must remember, the fear and anger, and later the exhaustion and desensitization, are being created purposefully. The despair and complacency that follow are also created purposefully. Those who create policies that pit district against district also pit administrators against their peers, teachers against teachers, parents against parents and even students against students. From the first moments of the shutdown, even during times when it seemed clear that the science led one direction, abrupt changes in policy dragged us from one impossible decision to the next.
Tomorrow, inevitably, students and teachers will enter classrooms without masks. Some will do it because of their district policy; others will do it out of resistance to district policy, or just general belligerence.
We’ve been told all year by our leaders that we would be protected, that safety was the highest priority. The belief that our leaders would protect us has now been completely destroyed. The whims of politicians to manipulate our loyalties and create division among us drive our policies. However, these are not whims at all, but power plays.
This latest decision feels like we have been punched in the face. We are expected to return to our classrooms tomorrow, cover our bruises with a mask, shut up and teach. We feel powerless to influence these sudden decisions.
These swings in policy are meant to make us feel divided and turn on each other. There is often no right choice to make in response. Therefore, we cling to the decisions we make and often leap to easy judgments of the choices of others. As long as we are fighting each other for scraps, we are not fighting unfair, unsafe policy. We become manipulated by entities from the district up to the national level.
We may feel powerless and dehumanized, but we know better. We are not powerless.
We need to remind each other of our power. We must recognize the humanity in each other.
We need to have courageous, empathetic conversations, more than just in passing. When the conversations reach a seeming dead-end, we need to stay rather than walk away in anger. We may need to sit through moments of silence when nobody is sure what to say. We need to ask, what do we stand for? What can we do? How can we support one another? How can we discover what we really believe?
We have to see each other. We have to see the loneliness, the fear. We have to resist making hurtful jokes because we don’t know what else to say. We have to remember why we appreciate and yes, love our colleagues. We have to recognize the humanity in each other, all over again. Like breathing exercises where we empty our lungs completely before taking a new, deep, cleansing breath, we must empty ourselves of the anger and frustration that has driven us through the year. That might create a starting point. We must do these things, because it is the only way to resist the purposeful divisions created by our leaders, for their own purposes.
Anybody who is teaching right now is doing a hard job. Instead of cruising through to the end of this horrid year, we are abruptly forced into new dilemmas. There is no way to appease all the families, protect all the children, or ease all our conflicts. Let’s use our energy to truly see each other, and unite around policy change that is good for the commUNITY.