As a rule, I will defend public school teachers in almost every case. As a former public school teacher myself, I too have been in the trenches, where I experienced some truly exquisite misery. If it weren’t for the fleeting moments of pure joy, or the fairly regular episodes of side-splitting hilarity, or the really good kids whose miraculous maturity allows them to bear witness to an adult’s backbreaking labor of love, no one on planet earth could be convinced to teach public school. No one. So when I say I understand how hard teachers work, I really do. And as a registered nurse who spent most of 2020 on the frontlines dealing with Covid-stricken patients, I think I understand what it means to put oneself in harm’s way.
My reverence for teachers makes it incredibly hard to lay any strong request or criticism at their feet. But today I must: Teachers, it is incumbent on you to stand up to your unions and demand to return to school. Not because you want to (lordy I don’t blame you if you don’t), but because the kids need you, parents need you, and because, at this point, there is not even a wispy-thin loin cloth of an excuse not to.
The CDC is resoundingly clear. Per their February 12th release: “in-person learning in schools has not been associated with substantial community transmission.”
There were indications that schools were not significant vectors for community spread as early as last spring, with robust evidence emerging in medical journals by midsummer. It is now almost March.
Let me just say, I get it. As someone who, years later, still has nightmares about my early teaching days (struggling to manage a classroom of 37 preteen boys, in north Memphis, as I begged them to care about pre-algebra), I sympathize. If a fluky scenario somehow had required me to take a break from in-person teaching, I would have clung to that excuse with a desperate vice-like clench. If the union whispered in my ear that it was best, noble even, for me to stay at home, it would have been deeply seductive. I pass no judgment on the teachers who are burned out enough to have been seduced.
However, I’m here to break the news that this is getting ridiculous. Embarrassing even.
Despite your valiant efforts to adjust to zoom, the stubborn fact remains that your service is not being fully rendered, and the rest of us are suffering, and needlessly so. Cases are plummeting — dropping by over 20% for the fifth straight week. Schools have been deemed by health officials as relatively safe. Most importantly, your students are suffering. We all want to start living again, and we are waiting, largely, on you.
Teachers are tougher than this. It needs to stop.
Rest assured, I am not preaching from the safety of a sequestered home office, but rather as an emergency RN who, no doubt, inhaled loads of the little beasties last year on a daily basis starting in March. I spent the entirety of 2020 on the front line in a busy ER in Los Angeles, during which time I worked with hundreds of covid patients. In all that time, I personally did not treat a single child sickened by Covid. In August I treated one father who may have been infected by his asymptomatic 10-year-old child. Anecdotal? Yes. However, my experience correlates with virtually all of the known research which, again, began appearing as early as spring of 2020. That we are discussing this now, well into the spring semester of 2021, is absurd.
Like tens of millions of “essential workers” (a term I loath, but I digress), I donned a mask and jumped in without hesitation each day during the height of the pandemic. Like my medical colleagues, I didn’t hesitate to lean in and put my hands on an infectious coughing patient, because their care was my duty, and the science assured me my risk was low. If an inexpensive, government-issued N-95 mask allowed my colleagues and I to do our jobs safely for months on end, I can’t think of a single reason why a teacher, in the same mask, working at a 6-foot distance, with a very low-risk population, in a setting which copious research suggests is safe, couldn’t do the same. I must admit, I chuckle even imagining a teacher wearing an N-95. Us nurses don’t even wear them with non-Covid patients in the emergency department, let alone non-medical settings, but if that’s what it takes, then by all means.
Demographically, nurses and teachers are virtually identical. Professionally, both are essential for societal function. And neither, I can personally attest, fill their ranks with cowards. The fact that one of these groups, that with the demonstrably lower risk, has been allowed to hold society hostage until we accommodate their every request, while the other has soldiered on without skipping a beat, is a circle I cannot square. I’m struck, as this level of princess behavior is utterly inconsistent with what I know to be the fortitude of the average teacher.
In reality, my frustration isn’t truly with teachers. It rests firmly with the teachers unions that only obliquely represent the teachers they purport to serve. It is the unions that are fueling hysteria among their ranks, and doing so for nakedly political reasons, as is obvious to anyone who takes the time to research their demands. Many teachers are simply caught in the crosshairs of dueling loyalties. I would never waste my time appealing to the unions to do what’s right for students and parents because they have shown time and again that they are shockingly callous to the wellbeing of students and parents. However, it is well worth my time to appeal to teachers, because teachers genuinely do care about students and parents.
So teachers, I am speaking directly to you. I implore you, please stand up for what’s right. Please restore the reputation of your noble profession. Please demand an end to this hostage situation.
Georgia Howe is a columnist, podcast host and registered nurse.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.