NO COUNTRY FOR LEARNED HELPLESSNESS
Take a moment and think about your favorite school teacher. Most of us had at least one great teacher. That person is likely to have embodied a superhero quality at a time in our lives when we were extremely vulnerable.
Many of us decided to go into teaching because that favorite teacher was someone we wanted to emulate. Wouldn’t that teacher deserve safe working conditions? Don’t you?
For too long, workers in various fields have been asked to accept risks of bodily harm as part of the job. This seemed reasonable for roofers and firefighters, but there was a time when schools were considered safe spaces.
In some ways, we still associate schools with safety. During a natural disaster, schools provide safety and refuge. But in day-to-day operations, schools have become one of the most dangerous workplaces in the U.S.
In the time of coronavirus, teachers are being asked to accept a very great risk. They are being asked to risk catching a virus that has killed healthy adults.
Recommendations to make classes safer are:
- Offer classes for older children online
- Keep class sizes small
- Require masks and social distancing
- However, the ability of young children to maintain adequate social distance and wear face coverings remains to be seen
What is much more likely to happen is that schools reopen, classes go on as usual and the rate of infection rises. Teachers feel scared. Some will choose to resign or retire out of concern for their well-being. Some are unable to do this. My advice to educators, when faced with unsafe working conditions, is to stand in solidarity with one another and demand that safe working conditions be established.
The best way for teachers to have a safe work environment is to join the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the union dedicated to serving employees in the K-12 public education system as well as faculty and support staff in the Wisconsin technical College System. WEAC is providing Members Only webinars to work with educators on developing protocols to ensure the safety of faculty, staff and students.
Many Wisconsin teachers likely feel powerless since it is illegal for them to strike. Act 10 established Wisconsin a right-to-work state. Despite Scott Walker’s attempt at killing public employee unions, WEAC remains a formidable force. Their strength is in numbers so membership is vital. The protections a union can provide have never been more important than they are at this moment.
Every essential worker has extraordinary power in this time, if only they choose to exercise it. Qualified educators are irreplaceable. Parents certainly don’t want to be tasked with providing education. The push to reopen schools is largely coming from parents who cannot spend more time with their children.
Many students are as frightened as teachers. Despite what some lawmakers are saying, children do catch COVID-19 and some have died from it. The rate of infection in children is far less than in adults, but it is extremely likely that childhood cases of COVID-19 are undercounted because children with the virus exhibit few symptoms. What appears to be a common cold might be a case of COVID-19 that never gets reported because the child was not tested.
These are extraordinarily difficult times made more harrowing by believing this pandemic is non-existent or that the risk of contagion is far less than it actually is. Teachers, please do whatever you need to do to stay safe. Parents, be nice to your child’s teachers.
For more information on WEAC, visit https://weac.org/about/
For more information on COVID-19 in children, visit https://www.covkidproject.org/