(A letter sent to the elected Member of the Legislative Assembly in the constituency where I live in Alberta, Canada.)
This is my first ever letter to an MLA, the first time I have felt that my voice needed to be heard. I am a teacher of 30 years, and never have I had so many misgivings about returning to the classroom.
I love teaching. I taught before becoming a mother, taught while my children were in school, and continue to teach now that they are in their mid to late 20’s. It is a gift to be able to pass on my love of learning to my students, and there have been hundreds of students whose lives I have been honoured to enter. Many tell me that they do not remember the specifics of my lessons (not worried about that) but they do remember how much I care. And I do. Care deeply. I have taught the children of students I taught when they themselves were in Grades 7 and 8 and 9. Students of mine are now parents. Are now teachers. It is something I do not for the glory (lol) or the summer holidays, but a lifelong vocation and passion.
Paramount to me though, as it is or should be to all adults, teachers, parents, any adult, is the wellbeing of our children. They are our future, our next generation. Our government is saying that they acknowledge that there will be increased cases of COVID when we send our children back to school in less than a month. That children will get infected. That they will bring this infection back into their homes, and in so doing it will affect their parents, their grandparents, their circle of friends.
A classroom is a confined space. There is no way to maintain the proper physical and social distance needed to prevent the spread of COVID. At this stage of this pandemic, adults are not encouraged to gather and spend hours together under these conditions, but we are sending our children into these spaces? In my classroom, there are half-hexagon tables which we push together so six students can sit together. My classes have 34 students. 38 students. If we were to distance them properly, we could get 9 students into the room safely. Where do the other 29 go? What about the lockers? The hallways? The bathrooms?
I read the MacLean’s article yesterday, about the rise of COVID in areas where school has already resumed. It is inevitable. I read about the plexiglass enclosures being used around each student in some parts of the world. I don’t know what the answer is. How much is being jeopardized to find out?
Yes, the government wants parents to return to work. But what happens when there is an outbreak and students and staff go into isolation? Someone will have to stay home with these children. Is there any way to effectively deliver a curriculum when some students are present, some at home in isolation, some sick? How does a child deal with the knowledge that they inadvertently brought the virus home, endangering family members? People die of COVID. We know that. We can talk of recovery rates and low mortality, but the reality is that we are in the midst of a global pandemic.
I myself am at high risk. Not only because of my age, but also because of my health. My lungs have been compromised by pneumonia and my doctor said I should not, cannot, go back into the classroom this fall. And I am not alone. When I have emailed my school board to ask what precautions and alternatives are being set out to accommodate students and teachers at risk, I am told to wait. I asked if I could be a Hub teacher, providing online instruction to students deemed by their families to be at high risk. I am told to wait. Many parents I have spoken to say that if the government (the Minister of Health, the Minister of Education) says it is safe to go back, they will listen to their government and send their children.
What if the school board does not give me the option of teaching online? I was successful, my students for the most part were successful. It was the busiest I have ever been and the hardest I have ever worked, but we pulled through. I could share with you emails from my students and from their parents thanking me and bearing witness to the success of learning. Many students did better online — those with ADD, ADHD, social anxieties. Borderline gifted. Some students struggled. Those who thought that if their marks could not go down, why bother. I could not convince them that learning is for learning, not for marks. Those that struggle in a classroom and depend on their Educational Assistants and the help of their teacher one-on-one and the help of their peers absolutely floundered. Plans need to be put in place to help and support them.
It is a new world. There is no going back to normal. This is the new normal. And in my opinion, we need to plan for this new normal. Priority being to keep our children, our society safe.
Please listen to my concerns and know that I am looking to my government to make the best decision here. Not solely based on economics, but on the safety of our children.
Josephine LoRe’s words have been read on stage, published in literary journals and anthologies in nine countries, put to music, danced, integrated into visual art, and interpreted through American Sign Language. She has two collections, Unity and the Calgary Herald Bestseller’s Cowichan Series. Josephine features frequently at live and virtual literary events. She has an MA in Comparative Literature from l’Université de Rouen and an Honour’s BA in Modern Languages and Literature from the University of Toronto. https://www.josephinelorepoet.com/