September 23, 2020

Teachers’ Fear of Returning to the Classroom

To the Editor:

Re “I Won’t Risk Covid to Teach Your Child,” by Rebecca Martinson (Sunday Review, July 19):

I sympathize. It’s difficult to be asked to rejoin a work force when nationally we have not had success flattening the curve or stomping out the virus. It’s hard to go to work in a situation where you know you’ll be exposed to a disease.

I should know — I’m a pediatric emergency room doctor. For the last four months I’ve joined the tens of millions of Americans who have gone to work as usual, putting their lives at risk. I am also among the millions who have come home to do their best to home-school their children. It’s not working. If there is no in-person school in the fall, I will be forced to scale back dramatically from my job.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has come down strongly with the opinion that in-person school is superior to distance learning. I have been contacting my state and local health departments since April, urging them to make school safe during coronavirus. I know that there are schools without enough cleaning supplies or hand sanitizer, and this is unacceptable. That said, we don’t have the luxury to wait on education until there’s no risk.

Education is an essential business. Teachers know this, and that’s why they are children’s greatest advocates. From one essential worker to others, I urge you to do your civic duty so that I can continue to do mine.

Hannah Duggan
New Orleans

To the Editor:

I am 62 years old and have been teaching in the New York City public schools for more than 20 years. I love my students, my job and my school. I believe that children belong in school, and I know that this period of quarantine has been incredibly hard for my sixth-grade students academically, emotionally and socially. I miss them every day.

I will not return to the classroom in September, which makes me extraordinarily sad. Unfortunately, I do not trust the system to take care of me (or my students). Our school’s ventilation system has not been working properly for more than 10 years despite custodians’ efforts to fix it. I spend many days dealing with students coming back from the bathroom to report that there is no soap to wash their hands.

Are you wondering if my school’s population is made up of Black and brown students? It is. Do you think these same scenarios exist in schools that are richer or whiter than my school? I do not know.

Nothing would make me happier than to be persuaded that I am incorrect — that it will be safe for a 62-year-old teacher to return to her classroom. But too much is at stake. I love my students, but I love my own children, my husband and my friends. I value the gift of my life. I will not look away from reality. This is my “teacher reality” right now.

Sharon Kramer
New York

To the Editor:

As a teacher, I very much appreciated Rebecca Martinson’s discussion of what is going through the minds of all teachers right now. Yet I can’t help but comment upon her great privilege in being able to write this.

Should she disagree with her state’s or district’s policies, she simply will not teach next year. What about teachers whose realities are much different? Single-parent teachers who rely on that income? Or my own situation, in which both partners are teachers in the same school district — in Florida! — where the governor has mandated in-class instruction five days a week? Where does that leave those of us who cannot give up our incomes?

Teachers all over the country are being put in the inconceivable position of having to choose between the health of their families and their livelihoods, and it is a terrible position indeed.

Anna Deckert
Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

To the Editor:

Dear Ms. Martinson:

I am sad that fear has overtaken your heart. You do not mention being a particularly vulnerable person with regard to Covid-19. We all have an individual and collective responsibility in society. You have chosen the wonderful profession of teacher. Hence it is your job to be there for your students, and being there remotely is not enough.

The medical professionals are there for you in person if you become ill. Your grocery store employee is there to make sure you have food on the shelves, the same way your plumber will come to your house if you have a leak. I understand your fear, because both science and the media have done a superb job in scaring us. Please do not fear.

You have an immune system that will work to protect you. Wear a mask, use hand sanitizers, stay away from other adults, but please show up for the kids. Teach them with passion and love and help them get through these difficult times. They need you. You are an important brick in the puzzle of our society.

Good luck, and thanks for your work.

Christer Malmberg
The writer is a doctor with a solo practice.