Parents Talk Back by Aisha Sultan

Returning to School: One Educator’s Perspective

On the bitterly divisive issue of returning to school, there’s one thing every parent can agree on: There are no good options. Every choice comes at a cost.

That’s where the agreement ends.

As schools announce their plans for how they will educate students during the COVID-19 pandemic, the reactions are as varied as families’ unique circumstances. Some are committed to having their children return to in-person instruction in school buildings, while others can’t imagine that happening safely.

In the Rockwood School District in suburban St. Louis, some parents are petitioning and protesting for more in-person instruction options, while others across the region are forming small pods to hire private tutors and teachers. Some families are opting out, choosing their own homeschool plans over a virtual school option.

But the voices of educators, who will be on the front lines of possible virus exposure in school buildings, are just as important to this debate as those of parents.

Mindy Grossman, a middle school guidance counselor in the St. Louis area, recently posted her frustrations online, and she agreed to share her post as it was written:

“The past two days since the school announcement was made have been a roller coaster of emotions. It has only been made worse by the comments on social media.

“I have been an educator for 30 years. During that time I have endured comments from friends, such as ‘But you get the whole summer off’ or ‘Don’t you just sit in your office and drink coffee?’

“I have bitten my tongue when the principal says the parent is right. I have spent thousands of dollars to buy your kid’s shoes, pay for his field trip, treat him to the snack bar because he is crying that he forgot his money and bought birthday treats for him to share with the class because you were too busy and forgot. ...

“I have held your crying kid while my own is waiting in the nurse’s office for me at their school. I have talked you off the ledge when you wanted to cuss out the teacher for treating your kid unfairly.

“I have listened while you tell me how to do my job even though I have never told you how to do yours! Ask my family -- I have calls and emails at night, on weekends and all summer long. I have missed my kids’ school events so that I could be there for your kids.

“And the list goes on.

“I am not saying this for thanks or for recognition. If you know me, you know I am not looking for that. I do these things because I believe in the work I have done each and every day for the past 30 years. But the response to the whole school fiasco has made me angry. Does this suck for everyone? Yes! Is there an easy answer to this? Absolutely not! But what hurts and angers me the most is that, after all I have given to you and your family through these years, during a crisis, you feel like your needs are more important than mine.

“And that, to me, shows the ultimate disrespect.”

Emotions are running high for parents who feel backed into making terrible decisions about their children’s education. But Grossman’s words ought to remind us of the risks we are asking educators to take by returning to their classrooms. A recent study found that 1 in 4 teachers, or about 1.47 million people nationwide, have a condition that puts them at higher risk of serious illness from coronavirus.

Teachers chose their profession knowing that it demands sacrifices. But those sacrifices should not include risking their lives and health during a pandemic.

Neither the pandemic nor the government’s bungled response is the fault of educators.

They shouldn’t be expected to pay the price.