Open Letter: ‘I Don’t Want To Be Your Casualty,’ Teacher Says

Dear Gov. Lamont and Commissioner Cardona,

I’m not writing a boilerplate version of all the other talking points CEA recommends, which are good and right.

This essay, by Dr. Shayla Griffin, should be your one and only lodestar for reopening schools. Read it. Do it. This is what’s necessary.

Additionally, though, I am writing because I want to show you the email I just wrote to my peers and administrators in my district:

“After speaking with my collaborating teachers this morning (the Sunday before school ‘reopens’), we are simply unsure when we’ll be able to meet again for the near future, trying to prepare for what looks like a doomsday scenario for all parties involved … sigh.

“I’ve been trying my best to put a silver lining on this ominous cloud, but it’s getting more and more difficult as the storm approaches. Logistically, this is all untenable, but if it was solely a logistical nightmare, that’s just a job for critical problem solving and compromise. And that’s why admin gets paid the big bucks, amirite?

“But this isn’t just administrative, a management puzzle to be solved.

“Putting students first and using this ‘unprecedented’ time as a ripe opportunity for systemic overhaul is good and right, but when you’re worried that your friends, your students, your family, and/or you yourself very well might suffer disastrous health consequences for the sake of … what?

“I’m not convinced that we’re doing what’s best for the collective good by going back into our classrooms, and it’s making it ever more difficult to consider the future of my instruction when all inspiration has been supplanted by confusion and feeling expendable.

“So many of us are too scared to strategize, too petrified to plan. And, to be honest, I’m heading down that fraught road myself. And, no, I’m not super interested in ‘talking it out’ only to be told that ‘it is what it is,’ or that I need to see all this from a new perspective, one in which this intangible ‘economic good’ somehow overrides people’s lives.

“So, for now, I’m going to pump the brakes on this collaboration session, at least for a few days until I can more bravely face the calamitous times ahead.

“And for the record, I’m not writing this for sympathy from above, as I know the administrators on this email can do little to nothing to clean up this mess; you’re doing the best with the mandates you’ve been given.

“I’m writing this to empathize with the rest of you who I also know are frightened. We are damned if we do, and we are damned if we don’t. The fight or flight is kicking in, at least for me, and I know which side I’m leaning towards …

“I hope to ‘see’ you soon, in whatever proximity that entails.”

To be clear, I’ve never felt more passion to be anything in my life other than a teacher. I literally want to change the world, one student at a time.

But I am shaken to my bones, and just as no student can truly learn without feeling safe, the same is true for teaching. I cannot do my job with any semblance of efficacy if I fear sickness and death day in and day out. And neither can my peers. We are professionals, not miracle workers.

I am imploring you: please pump the brakes and let us get back to the business of doing what’s best for all involved — the students, the parents, the teachers, and, yes, even the economy! — after you provide the necessary funds, resources, and protection for us all.

It’s not our fault that most parties in power assumed a global pandemic was going to magically just “get better” by the time late August rolled around, that “we’d cross that bridge when we came to it.” Frankly, it’s yours. And I don’t want to be your casualty in a war I don’t believe in.

Please do what’s right here — not for the imaginary “economy” or the inconvenienced, loud, wealthy, white minority. Do what’s best for the collective good. If this entails a relatively healthy, younger teacher like myself “goes into the building” with the very few kids who need to be in the brick and mortar version of school, then so be it. If this entails adopting empty movie theaters as new classrooms, or mandating older kids stay at home while the younger ones spread across all the newly available high school buildings across districts, then so be it. If it requires that the speedy testing, which exists for those who are able to afford it (like those in the NBA bubble or at Hamptons galas) are also readily available for us every single day, then so be it.

But none of those things are happening … yet.

So, it’s time to take a pause. Give us time and resources and money and protection. When you’ve done your job, and when you’re ready to ensure one or all of the above, then let us know. And, then let us continue changing the world, one student at a time.

Sincerely,

John Whaley

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