I’ve been a little quiet in my corner of the internet. As many of you know, I have returned to the classroom for my 26th year of teaching here in Central Florida. This past summer was the first time in a long time that I felt comfortable enough to go out without a mask, to meet with friends and hang out again. It was honestly the calm before the storm.
Over the summer, there was a great deal of turnover at my school. We have a whole new leadership team and a brand new vision. As one of the remaining veteran teachers, I was asked to participate in the new vision. I was installed as grade chair–the first time in my career–and the new teacher prep program facilitator. At the same time that these events occurred, I was also increasing my footprint in my local union.
At the end of last year, I was named the building rep of the year for the district. Here in Florida, we are redoubling our efforts at organizing. There’s been a statewide campaign to recruit union members to become member organizers. We work after school on recruitment and retention initiatives for the union. It involves lots of training hours and lots of time in planning and prep, but its honestly some of the most fun I’ve had in a while. When we had elections at the beginning of the school year, I won a seat on our union’s board.
Around the same time that these things happened, I’d already begun to prepare Planning 101. My very first webinar series for training teachers on planning. I was so excited to share my ideas and help folks with their planning. Honestly, although it was a lot, I’m a person that has always been a worker, so it just felt like a lot of great opportunities to enjoy and lean into.
My class this year is a true joy. I tell them all the time that I’m going to stay with them until 12th grade and then retire in bliss from my years of working with them. They are so easy going and sweet. In a normal year, this would have been one of the best years of my career.
But I teach in Florida.
In the weeks leading up to school starting, I honestly prayed that the numbers I was seeing weren’t true. Then I changed that prayer to one of ‘please Lord, let the powers that be see the numbers and do something to protect kids and teachers’. There is something to thinking that a place or profession doesn’t value your humanity, but actually feeling it? Seeing it in action? The pain in that for me has been unreal.
We started school four weeks ago. We are underresrouced. There are not enough books, teacher’s editions, chromebooks, subs, paras, bus drivers, custodians or teachers. Almost immediately, students and staff were getting sick. We’ve had hundreds of people get Covid in the last few weeks. Thousands of students and staff quarantined in schools. We were already short teaching positions, bus drivers and subs. With the rolling quarantines, its hard to get kids the services they need. Everyone is doing someone else’s job and not getting to their own. Coaches and paras are being pulled all over the place. Even district level folks have been teaching in classrooms. We were woefully unprepared to start this school year. The school board ‘hoped’ that things wouldn’t take a turn, but when it did? They didn’t have the courage to make a decision for schools to mask up. They just kept kicking the can down the road because they are in equal measure scared of this community and of the governor.
Then, ten days ago, I tested positive for Covid. Thankfully, my symptoms were mild.
We’ve had staff and students lose significant family members to Covid.
We’ve had kids orphaned.
We’ve been in school for four weeks, five if you count the week of teacher planning.
I’ve written letters to board members, spoken at board meetings, and mobilized teachers.
Please forgive me that I couldn’t get Planning 101 out like I wanted to. Y’all. It’s so hard here right now. I can’t even pretend that its not. The trauma is so normalized at this point.
Currently, our district is not wanting to make a mask mandate because of the governor’s executive order.
Since it was struck down in court, we have hope that there will be an opportunity to create a local plan that protects kids and teachers, but its a reach. The local school board meetings have been so contentious. I was so grateful that I brought Chris with me to the last one. It was awful. Unmasked people screaming about tyranny and bringing something other than a bullhorn to the next meeting.
Some day in the future, this whole pandemic business might happen again.
I hope we shut everything down until we can have people moving and working in safety.
I hope we remember that teachers specialize in educating and trust them to do that work whether in the school house or out of it.
I hope if things become unfair, that communities will mobilize. That they will trust the science and make decisions about what’s best for people, not what is politically expedient.
If you’re teaching in these conditions too, solidarity.
Please reach out to your local teachers union, or even your state union.
Please organize for the good of your colleages and the students.
Tomorrow, I go back to work for the first time in ten days.
I’m so thankful for the way my team stepped up and took care of the kids and the other responsibilities I would have had if I were at work. I’m so thankful that my kids have been pretty well behaved in spite of the different people they have seen over the last ten days. I’m thankful that my union got the MOU passed and that I didn’t have to give up my sick days while I was out with Covid. I’m grateful for friends that have checked in on me through this season.
I still feel purposed to stay in this fight. To stay in my classroom. To work with my kids and families.
I still feel thankful that I made the choice to love and lead kids in schools.
I don’t know what this year holds, but there’s something to be said for walking in purpose.
I pray you are all well and whole. I pray that you can find your purpose in this season too.