This editorial was written by Richard Haase, President of the Half Hollow Hills Teachers Association and the PR chair for LongIslandTeachers.org
Covid has upended the lives of many working Americans. For educators, the last two years have come as an exclamation mark on a systemic crisis of stability that’s shaken our schools for more than a decade. It’s driven millennials away from teaching, exhausted a generation that set out simply to make a difference in the lives of children, and had a lasting impact on the climate in our schools, places that must continue to be a safe haven where children can develop personally, academically, and socially into strong, centered young people.
Ten years ago, we defended our schools against a national effort to break public education. We repelled attacks from elected officials and self-motivated entrepreneurs who demoralized teachers and pushed for-profit testing and accountability platforms. In the backdrop, economic crisis led to deeper cuts in education funding, tens of thousands of educators laid off nationwide, and an increase in school closures. Teacher preparation programs immediately saw a decrease in enrollment.
Far worse than the verbal and financial attacks was the dramatic increase in mass school shootings. They cost countless students and teachers their lives and ushered in increases in drills, surveillance, and emergency protocols. When there isn’t actual violence, we now contend with threats on TikTok and other social media platforms. These are among the new realities that shaped the fabric of our schools before Covid struck.
Since 2019, schools have pivoted dramatically and repeatedly. Sudden closure of the system forced millions to redefine their work overnight. The following school year required navigating infection rates and looming closures, contact tracing, quarantining, hybrid instruction, and tectonic shifts to our work that occurred monthly. Educators ended the last school year, like so many Americans, exhausted.
Today, we continue to work through the residual and lingering challenges of the Covid crisis. Students returned this year with varied degrees of learning loss, exacerbated for language learners and students with disabilities. Teachers wear masks all day, which is both right and exasperating. We continue to overhaul our teaching methods. We use our lunch and planning times to cover classes for quarantined colleagues, deliver instruction and support to students who are at home, and try to meet the increased needs of our own classes.
Two years into the Covid crisis, everyone is stretched thin. Our educators are now ten years into crisis, and thinner than we’d be if it was ‘only Covid’ we’d been dealing with. We can’t undo all we’ve endured, but communities must immediately lay down their arms and recommit to the trust and support we need in order to protect our schools so they can be the places we need them to be for our children.