There are three kinds of employees in these pandemic times: essential workers, nonessential workers and those stuck in between.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for the Lakes Region Weekly, lives in Windham.

Workers considered essential by the government include nurses, grocery store employees, delivery drivers, first responders and others who are needed onsite for the operation of life-sustaining sectors of the economy.

They have been going to work every day of the health crisis. They are justly heralded by the general public for their bravery and dedication to the public good. We’re lucky to have these people willing to put their health on the line to keep the country going.

A subcategory of essential workers includes those who work remotely. The internet allows them to continue producing goods and services by replicating their office work environment at home. People working in the fields of communications, finance, legal, nonprofit and government fill these ranks. Their jobs may not sustain life, but they support those who do.

Nonessential workers have been able to stay at home because they come from industries that aren’t considered necessary for the sustaining of life. These occupations include bars, restaurants, golf courses and gyms. Many such operations have reopened since the initial panic subsided, but some remain closed due to government edict.

But there are some professions that straddle the line between essential and nonessential, most notably the teaching profession.

No one would dare say teachers are “nonessential” because who would educate the next generation if not for them? But they’re also not quite “essential” because, well, you don’t need education to sustain life. (Cavemen, for example, went for eons without learning their three R’s.)

As we approach another school year, much drama is unfolding around whether public school teachers are really as essential as many of us have always thought they were. Remote learning has been a failure, due to a host of reasons, and, as such, the value of in-person learning is now appreciated more than ever.

But one roadblock to reopening remains: public school teacher unions.

These unions, including those in Maine, say they’re extremely worried about restarting in-person learning. Many teachers fear for their lives, with some even drafting last wills and testaments in preparation for their death due to contracted coronavirus. Other teachers are worried that kids won’t be able to practice social distancing or wear a mask and will bring the virus home to ailing parents and grandparents.

These are valid concerns. All I have to say to these hesitant teachers is this: Welcome to the club.

“Essential workers” and their families have been dealing with this fear for the last five months while you’ve been allowed to “stay safe at home.” Why should you be allowed – or, more precisely, why do you feel entitled – to stay safe, receiving full compensation, while others aren’t?

President Trump fittingly invoked a wartime analogy when he portrayed the fight against the virus as a war against an invisible enemy. Many generations of brave Americans have entered actual war knowing they may die. They were fearful but they did their duty. We “essential workers” have been doing this for months now. Some of us have indeed died or gotten sick, but most remain unscathed. It’s time teachers gear up, buck up and join us in battle.

In this, the 75th year after America embraced the concept of total war and won World War II, coronavirus pales in comparison to the Nazi threat. Teachers need to get out of their foxholes and join the majority of working Americans trying to keep America great by defeating this new enemy.

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