BRUNSWICK — Entrenched in the will-they-won’t-they debate about whether to reopen schools this fall, I have encountered countless opinions about what would supposedly be best for students and parents. As we inch closer to another school year, I find myself lying awake in the middle of the night; not because I’m nine months pregnant, but because no one seems to be asking another crucial question. So I’m going to: What about the teachers?

For 19 weeks, my family has been self-isolating. I won’t lie – it’s been hard. My husband has also been working from home as we navigate my pregnancy and raising our 3½-year-old. I know that my son misses kids his own age; I miss my students and colleagues. I know that more distance learning will be difficult. I know that it will take a toll and that as a society we are already drained. However, despite the medical, economic and racial crises this country faces, one thing I have not had to worry about (until now) is someone playing Russian roulette with my life.

It is easy to say “Send them back no matter what” and “Parents need life to get back to normal,” but when you are facing the reality of being stuck inside a building with 800 people, the whole debate becomes much less abstract. It becomes terrifying. While most educators are used to the lack of respect that this country generally – and the Trump administration particularly – extends toward its teachers, this latest slight is especially alarming. Is anyone worried about whether we will get sick or asymptomatically carry COVID-19 back to our own kids and families? Will we be forced to return to the petri dish of public school no matter the cost? Are we just going to give it a whirl and wait and see? Will it take more teachers and children getting  sick or dying for us to realize that returning to school isn’t safe yet?

I have taught public high school in Maine for a decade now, and I am not convinced that we can make our buildings safe, never mind conducive to meaningful teaching and learning. I don’t know a single student (or teacher) capable of maintaining proper social distancing and mask-wearing within the confines of our building. It isn’t anyone’s fault – the space just isn’t designed to handle a pandemic, one that is far from over.

I know this is an impossible time and that I am lucky to be on parental leave for the first few weeks of the impending school year, but I implore school districts and communities not to ignore the people responsible for educating their children. I know teaching remotely isn’t ideal. It’s not how any of us want to communicate with kids, either. I don’t want to teach “Wuthering Heights” over Zoom. I know my colleagues don’t want to cobble together art projects or science labs or history lectures online. But at least we’ll stay alive if we do.

Please don’t send us back as cases continue to rise across the country. Please don’t ask us to risk our personal health and safety (and by extension, our families’) just so we can say we tried to “do school” in person. Please don’t forget that we are also human beings doing our best, struggling to survive like everyone else. I love being a teacher – it is fundamental to my identity as a person on this planet. I love working with teenagers – they give me hope for the future, one that I want to be around for. So please don’t forget about us teachers: Please don’t gamble with our lives.


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