Written by Ange LaGoj
I cannot sleep. It is 2 AM, I am exhausted, but a hot, screeching, soul agonizing scream wants to burst forth from my chest. After months of washing my hands, wearing a mask, avoiding unnecessary social gatherings, I am being called back to the classroom. I’m confused. What changed? Has the virus dissipated? Did its mode of transmission change? Did the school buildings that the governor deemed as obsolete and/or unsafe for children change shape? How is it that some educators can teach remotely from home, but I am denied that privilege? Is their life more valuable than mine?
The virus “that has changed the world” prevails. There are upticks in Europe – Italy, Spain, France. There is a new hot spot – India. Thousands of tests come back positive daily in the United States. Clusters of infections arise throughout New York.
As I attend four days of professional development in preparation for one hundred and eighty days of uncertainty, anxiety, and risk, college campuses in New York have opened and shut down in a matter of a few days.
I sat in a classroom with nine of my colleagues – mask and shield on, 6 feet apart – listening to half-formed directives about teaching live and at a distance simultaneously, keeping accurate attendance records of 3 groups (hybrid live, hybrid remote, all remote), maneuvering two devices in order to share my screen with the students in front of me and those permitted to stay home without revealing confidential records, providing high-quality instruction as well as social-emotional learning, identifying visible signs of COVID in our students, maintaining constant communication with parents, devising ways to assess students equitably, fulfilling IEP accommodations, allowing students mask breaks periodically throughout the day, directing one-way traffic in the hallways while reminding students to face front and pull their masks up, cleaning the desks in between periods, covering classes and monitoring students while our colleagues are out getting tested for COVID.
My mind is in a fog. I read commentary online about how teachers like me don’t want to go back to work. We are lazy. We like sitting at home in our pajamas. We don’t understand that our role is to monitor kids as their parents work. It’s unjust that we have been doing this job for years and now we don’t want to do it anymore.
We are misunderstood. The truth is that I love teaching so much that I cannot sleep over what is happening to it. I was upset that I could not plan my units and lessons this summer. (I was not sure about what I was teaching until two days ago.) The truth is that I miss interacting with my students. This year, I will not be able to approach them to help with their work, encourage or comfort them. I cannot give them prizes or share celebrations with them. I cannot provide paper or pens. I will be 6 feet away and on the other end of a Google Meet. I will not be able to see their puzzled frowns change to enlightenment. They will be smiling behind their mask or maybe at home. I will continue to miss them.
I will also miss my niece. She is two months old; a premature baby. She doesn’t have all of her vaccinations yet. Her immunity is low. I will be babysitting high school students while she grows up. When I see her – 10 months from now, after a 2-week quarantine and a COVID test, she will not recognize me.
I am hoping to have children of my own someday. I am turning thirty-four in October – one year before any potential pregnancy is deemed high-risk. I am on fertility medication that will have to be suspended if/ when I contract the virus. I wonder and worry about the possible long term effects that COVID has on bodily functions. While I am teaching/babysitting, I may be risking the lives of my possible future babies.
I will miss my husband if and when I contract the virus. He is immunocompromised – a type 1 Diabetic. COVID might be inconvenient, a little flu, for ordinary people like us (K-12 teachers and students) but for him, it could be deadly.
I need health insurance. I cannot quit a ten-year investment and find work “at McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts” as some people have suggested to teachers who are worried about returning to school buildings to watch over teenagers as their parents work “essential” jobs.
Therefore, I will report to the school building in a couple of days. I will sit in a classroom (will it be disinfected?) with my colleagues, wearing a mask and foggy glasses under an echoing shield. I will know that our counterparts – ten teachers from a nearby school- who were supposed to be sitting in a similar configuration are now at home, in quarantine, because they have already been exposed to the virus. I cannot make sense of this situation. This defies logic. The tormented scream lives lodged in my throat. It wakes me up at night.
I was once bright and enthusiastic about teaching. I loved World Languages (my subject) and adolescents (my target audience) so much that I invested thousands of dollars and years (fertile years) of my life to nurturing this career and serving the society and the community that demands my presence in the building while the pandemic rages on. I am deeply disturbed. I am fighting the shrieking scream of logic. I cannot rest.
Ange LaGoj is a high school Italian teacher who majored in English years ago, and wrote for her college newspaper. During a recent bout of spiritual restlessness, she found her way back to writing.