I am a teacher. I have worked in special education for over 25 years.

When and how schools should open this fall is a question that creates strong feelings because it goes right to the heart of what we value as a society. COVID-19 has revealed to everyone the ugly truth.

Our schools and teachers have been covering for the failure of our society to deal with fundamental problems of life and death for decades. With poverty as a problem, our teachers spend their own money to offer kids food; our schools provide breakfasts, lunches, warm clothes and books. When mass shootings plague us and our elected representatives do not have the will or courage to address this, the schools take it on with mass shooting drills, training, lockdowns, bullet proof backpacks.

We are told that the economy cannot return to normal without schools fully open. We know kids depend on their schools for connection and routine. Parents have to work. Hungry kids need food. Children living in unsafe environments require the safety of the schoolhouse. Why is it that without schools it all falls apart?

Remember back in March when teachers across this country had to move quickly to online teaching without any warning? Without missing a beat, teachers did the job and managed to find amazingly creative ways to maintain connections with the hardest to reach kids. We were heroes then, right? Everyone said so. Now suddenly it’s August and teachers are selfish and lazy for worrying about their safety and the safety of their families. Which is it, hero or villain? We just can’t seem to get it straight in this country.

No wonder teachers are confused and stressed and so are parents. I have seen invective directed at teachers and administrators at the very mention of delayed or partial openings. Let’s stop scapegoating the folks who have been stepping up to confront our most serious problems all along. We have grown to expect our schools to fix each and every problem children and families face and now we are confronted with a problem that schools and teachers cannot fix.

I understand the anger but it is directed at the wrong place.

It is not the teacher’s fault, or the administrator’s fault, or the school board’s fault. It is all of our faults by not demanding that our elected leaders do their jobs. And if we teachers are expected to fulfill this role in a larger capacity than our original job description outlines, we need the resources to do so. Because for all our schools do, they are chronically underfunded.

The fact is that schools will open. Some schools will open online, some in person, and some in a combination approach. Teachers and staff will do what they always do: find creative ways to reach all kids.

Eventually the happy day will come when this virus is under control and we can all return to normal, hopefully a new normal. My fervent wish is that within this new normal we will finally give schools and the people who work in them the respect they deserve.

We can start by including teachers in decisions that affect our trade, treating us as the knowledgeable professionals we are and stop scapegoating and blaming us for every problem that comes along and our inability to fix problems that are not ours to fix. COVID-19 is a serious challenge. But even more serious than a deadly virus is our abysmal failure as a nation to muster the collective will to solve any of our problems. For the sake of our children, that needs to change.

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