I’ve been an educator for 14 years, and in my time in the classroom, I have faced some incredible obstacles and challenges. The end of the last school year, with the COVID-19 pandemic, is one of the hardest and strangest things I’ve experienced in my time as an educator. It felt surreal to have no time to say goodbye to my 8th grade students and to go home on a Friday, expecting first to return in two weeks, then a month, and then not at all for the rest of the school year. Like most educators I know, I figured that we would be open by fall. My school district has chosen to start the year with distance learning, but from what I’ve heard from friends, family, and other educators, many school districts are giving families a choice. Even if you have the option to send your child back to the classroom, as a teacher, I feel strongly that families should keep their children home this fall.
There are a number of reasons why I feel this way. First and foremost is safety. Most states are seeing incredible spikes in COVID-19 cases right now, which means that you’re more likely to catch the virus. Additionally, while researchers first believed that children could not pass COVID-19 the way adults do, it is now believed that children can in fact infect others. By opening schools, the amount of people exposed to COVID-19 grows exponentially as kids pack classrooms and hallways. There are hundreds of children and adults on most school campuses. If people are exposed and carry it to school, that means the virus will spread uncontrollably through the school population. Ask any teacher who has been in the classroom for a bit: we know that at the first sign of a child with a sore throat or stomach troubles, we can expect the virus to spread like wildfire. COVID-19 is even more contagious than the common cold or flu.
It isn’t just safety on campuses, either – it’s about what goes home. I have been at home since March, meaning that I have only seen my wife. We have everything delivered, and have had occasional socially distanced visits with my family, who have also been staying at home (not even leaving to go to the store!). Even now, we’ve even cut back on that as I happen to be high-risk. If I go back to work, I risk catching a virus that could kill me. This isn’t just a typical cold or flu, which I expect to get a few times per year since I typically have contact with 150+ students and staff per day. COVID-19 is serious, and asking school staff to come to work and mingle with people who have been exposed doesn’t just affect us, it affects our families, too.
Related: An Epidemiologist on the 2 Things She’s “Watching Very Closely” Before Sending Her Kids to School
Finally, I personally do not believe that most schools will stay open long. Outbreaks are inevitable. One thing I have learned during this pandemic is that routine is comforting. By going into the school year with distance learning, you save your children the struggle of bouncing back and forth between both school and home. It allows you and your child to get into a routine of doing distance learning from home and to adjust to it with thoughtfulness and care, rather than being forced into it overnight after an outbreak. If possible, get your kid in the right mindset by replacing the rituals of new backpacks and school supplies with things like organizing a dedicated area for school and reviewing your expectations for your child’s behavior during the day. Let them know that they’ll be learning online. Practice things like accessing Zoom, sitting in their seat, completing activities, and reading. Kids are resilient and can adapt to nearly anything, including learning from home. I know that this is exceptionally challenging for students with special needs. Many districts are implementing special sessions for students who need additional help, and I encourage parents to reach out to their children’s teacher for help and support – you are not alone!
I certainly don’t wish to downplay the struggles of working parents. I know that what is being asked of you is impossible, and I have endless empathy for people trying to work and help facilitate school for their children. Many parents don’t have the luxury or privilege of scheduling their days around school. Most educators I know have spent a lot of time this summer looking at how to make distance learning more effective because of this. School administrators are working to coordinate training, technology support, and help for parents for whom distance learning is a struggle. This isn’t easy, and most teachers are very understanding about hardships children and families may be facing during this time. Personally, I know that my focus right now is connecting with students and trying to make sure they are doing well emotionally. We will definitely cover the English curriculum I usually teach, but the well-being of my students is at the top of my mind.
This is an extraordinary time in our country’s history. We are being asked to do things that feel impossible. The good news is that we can do it together. Rather than pushing back at your child’s school district or teacher, my suggestion is that you reach out for suggestions on how you can support your child’s learning. This is definitely not any teacher’s first choice. Most educators are thrilled at the start of every school year, and we’re heartbroken that we might not be arranging our classrooms and eagerly getting ready to begin a new year in a traditional way. But right now, our focus needs to be on creating a safe environment for all. Kids can’t learn if teachers are constantly fearing for their health, or if they’re off campus quarantining after being exposed. This is a challenging time, but if we all work together and look for ways to support one another, I believe we will get through it, even if it does mean distance learning is the best option.
Editor’s Note: This piece was written by a POPSUGAR contributor and does not necessarily reflect the views of POPSUGAR Inc. Interested in joining our POPSUGAR Voices network of contributors from around the globe? Click here.