The day started out like any other; jokes with kids, attendance, writing, discussions. I had a small class for remedial reading, a good class, all boys. Then the voice came over the loudspeaker, “Lockdown, lockdown, lock down.” We all knew exactly what to do. I turned off the projector. The students scurried to corners of the room, hunched down on the floor. I checked to make sure the door was securely shut and locked. I snapped off the room light. I grabbed a student desk and put it directly beside the door. Anyone entering that room would have to deal with me first. Then this amazing thing happened. A boisterous, raucous high school, filled with over one thousand people, went absolutely silent. Minutes went by. I knew right away this was not a drill. Those minutes added up to a half an hour, then an hour. One student, so distraught, asked if he could hide lying under my desk. I nodded and he crawled forward to lie in a fetal position under my desk. I knew I had to get us all ready. I instructed my students very quietly to get any house keys they might need and tuck them in their pockets because if we went, we’d have to leave our backpacks behind. I showed them at the window, we were at the ground floor, where we would run to if we had to. I explained to them that they must do absolutely everything a police officer ordered them to do without question. Another hour went by. I told them they could text their parents to tell them they were safe. Another hour went by. “I’m hungry” a student whispered. I got my lunch and divided it between the students. I thought a lot about dying in those three hours. I texted my family to let them know how much I loved them.
I did not become a teacher to die. I became a teacher because I love learning. I love literature and writing. I wanted to share my great passion with others. I know how learning can touch a student’s life and change the trajectory of that life. I wanted that for my students. At no time, in all my wildest dreams, did I think teaching would involve me hiding children while I braced myself to face a gunman. But I did it. No one asked me if I was ok with it. No one asked me if I was capable of such a sacrifice, they assumed I would do it. So, here I was hunkered down, willing to sacrifice my life for my students.
The drill ended peacefully. It seemed a teenager did, in fact, bring a gun to school. They caught him fairly quickly and the rest of the lock down was to ensure that none of his friends had brought a gun to school and, the intended victim was found, and his safety ensured.
We are in the year of “no one asked.” No one asked me if I could re-arrange my home to make it ready to be my primary classroom. No one asked if I had adequate internet and computers. It was just assumed I would do what I had to, in my own home, to prepare to teach with my own devices, my own internet, in my own space, with whatever I had. No one asked me to learn new computer technology in just a few weeks and have a new-fangled classroom and a new-fangled way of teacher ready to go, they just assumed I would do it. No one asked me if I knew how to teach a hybrid class, when we moved to that model. No training was provided. We’d just do it because it was what was happening. No one asked if I felt secure in the classroom. I was handed an ill-fitting mask, a face shield and a new Lenovo laptop and metaphorically told, “Have at it.” So, now, without asking, assuming I’d just do it, I haven’t been asked, yet again, to risk my life for my students by teaching in person through the COVID-19 pandemic. Personally, I’ve had enough.
“It’s your job,” people have said, as if teachers are shirking their vows of holy orders by demanding to stay safe. At no time, ever, did I agree to risk my life to teach students “i before e” or how to create a thesis statement. I have spent the better part of two decades learning how to effectively teach students, so they are prepared for life, school, and future employment. I’m really good at it. Now, I just have one small request; let teachers get vaccinated before we return to in person instruction.
The pandemic has snapped the educational system into pieces. Social issues that have prevented students from achieving are now huge boulders in the path to learning. Children are falling behind. Some have been temporarily lost. Parents are at wits end. But all that is fixable. If I die—well, that isn’t fixable. I’m willing to double down, next year, after everyone who wants the vaccine gets it, to get your child up to speed. We have to remember, that the entire country has suffered, not just a single child or a single school. We will have to work collectively to get everyone back on track. Like I said, I’m willing to do that because that is my job. Please support distance education until the vaccine is available to everyone who wants it. Let me be able to do my job.