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How much are teachers worth?

By Shavon Teahan

Note: This blog post was written by a BTU member a couple days after the February 3rd BTU Safe Schools car caravan.

Wednesday I hit a breaking point. I had been revving up for the BTU Caravan, which took place Wednesday evening, by reading about all the hypocrisy from the powers that be and the unheard pain of teachers, school staff, students and families. I tried to focus my energy into preparing my car for the Caravan with messages like: #MakeItMakeSense #StillNotSafe #SafeNotSilenced.

We gathered at the farmers market parking lot downtown. There were so many people, so many signs, so many voices. I read the words “What do you think is going to happen to their test scores when someone they love dies?” and “78% of the children who died of Covid were Black, Hispanic, or Native American. But please, tell us more about ‘equity’.” and “I can teach from a computer NOT A COFFIN.”  and “Black Lives Still Matter” and “Martyr was NOT in the job description!!” I think they counted about 300 cars participated. It felt good to take action. We drove from downtown to the BCPSS district headquarters on North Ave.

When I arrived at North Ave. there were horns blaring, music blasting, signs waving. I blared my horn in unison as I drove past. I parked and went to the corner with my sign. Cars honked as they drove past, even city buses and a fire truck. News reporters, cameras, photographers were there to capture it all. We finally felt seen and heard. Will the administration finally see and hear us? Will BCPSS, will Dr. Santelises, will MSDE, will Governor Hogan finally hear us?!

Delaying the arbitrary return date by 2 weeks is not enough! We have got to do better! Teachers are not disposable. Academics can be recovered but lives cannot. Don’t tell us students have “missed out on almost a year of education” WE HAVE BEEN EDUCATING. And we have been doing it without much real support from the district.

Don’t tell us you are delaying the start date to “provide additional time for families and staff to understand and prepare for this experience.” It is YOU that doesn’t understand it is NOT SAFE to open!

Don’t tell us “There is no public health reason for school boards to be keeping students out of schools. None.” HUNDREDS OF EDUCATORS HAVE DIED FROM COVID 19! 

You say that educators are in the group to receive vaccines but all appointments are full. Furthermore, the appointments being scheduled by BCPSS does not include all teachers, we must wait to be invited to make an appointment. So we are expected to wait to be vaccinated and protected but you can’t wait to open schools?

Don’t tell us to “get back to work” WE HAVE BEEN WORKING HARDER THAN WE HAVE EVER WORKED! We are getting creative, finding ways to reach our students and meet their needs. Just like we always have because we are used to not getting what we need from the people making decisions about education. This is why we have organizations like Donors Choose, where we have to rely on help from strangers in order to have adequate materials for our students. We have to get creative when our heat isn’t working in our dilapidated buildings. We have to get creative when there is non-drinkable water in our schools. We have to get creative when you decide to put 37 Kindergarteners (5 year-olds) in one classroom with a first-year teacher and no paraprofessional/assistant. We have to get creative when there is no soap, paper towels, or toilet paper in the building. We have to get creative when it’s in the 90s, we have no AC, but you are still expecting students to focus on their learning.

Virtual learning is working for those who are participating because teachers are making it work. If you really want to help, then focus on supporting those who are not engaged. You point out that students’ mental health is being affected not being in school buildings. We are in the middle of a pandemic, everyone’s mental health is being affected including teachers. And teachers are doing their best to include social emotional support to students during this time. Going back into the buildings does not mean we are going back to the way things were before a pandemic. Students will still be learning virtually, they will be social-distanced, movement will be minimal. Going back into the buildings should not be THE cure for their mental health. If you really wanted to help you would be more focused on ways to support our students’ social emotional needs.

But you don’t really want to help, you don’t really care about the well being of our children. The number of Covid-19 cases and deaths are extremely higher now than when the decision was made to close schools last March. On February 5th, 2021 the data shows a 7-day average of 1422 Covid cases per day in Maryland and 32 deaths per day. You say you care about our students as a cover for the real truth which is trying to force students back into school for testing because the tests bring you money. This is why even though the Covid data shows an all time high for cases and deaths, you are trying to force us back into the school buildings. MSDE has not yet waved MCAP testing for the 2021 school year. Guess when the testing window opens? March! Forcing students to return to take your tests. ALL YOU CARE ABOUT IS MONEY! HOW MUCH ARE OUR LIVES WORTH?