Ducey, however, has said that districts in Arizona should start the new school as soon as Aug. 17 with students and teachers in the classroom, as President Trump has demanded. Some teachers have started protesting, saying it is too dangerous to reopen schools while covid-19 rates and hospitalizations are spiking.
Mace is a teacher mentor in Tucson and the mother of three children aged 10 and under. (Teacher mentors are educators who not only teacher children but also serve as mentor for beginning teachers.)
In this post she explains why she may quit or take leave if she is required to return to school. She speaks for a lot of teachers, especially those who also have young children at home and have complicated decisions to make about work and child care during the pandemic.
Mace is Public Voices Fellow with the OpEd Project, a social venture that aims to increase the range of voices and quality of ideas contributing to national and international debate.
By Heather Mace
As a public school employee with three elementary school-aged children, I can close my eyes and imagine what classes might look like this fall: desks placed six feet apart, staggered lunch schedules, online curriculum. What I have a harder time envisioning, however, is how parents who work in education are supposed to attend to their own children’s needs and still keep their jobs.
Like many working parents and caregivers during this pandemic, I have struggled to balance work with child care, home schooling and keeping my family safe from covid-19.
From March through May, my husband hunkered down in our sweltering workshop to virtually teach his students with special needs and complete mountains of paperwork. Meanwhile, in between helping our 6-, 8- and 10-year-old children navigate online platforms and class meetings, I would sneak away to write curriculum and Zoom with the teachers I mentor.
It was exhausting, stressful and ultimately unsustainable. For that reason, like many mothers, I am weighing the difficult decision of whether to opt out of the workforce when school resumes in a few weeks.
Alternatively, if schools move to extended online learning, teachers will be expected to teach their roster of students and supervise their own children’s learning. Teachers who juggle this “secret parenting” with their full-time job may feel unsupported and overwhelmed, and as a result could take family leave time or resign altogether.
Our entire economy rests on the premise that schools will provide education, food and child care for our children. If teachers aren’t there to hold up that fragile structure, it will crumble.
Fortunately, districts can take steps to support teachers who are caring for both their own children and those in our community.
They can start by acknowledging the elephant in the room: Some teachers will be engaged in parenting while working for your district. By formally communicating that you understand this challenge and are eager to accommodate your staff, districts can relieve a mental burden for many teachers.
District leaders can also offer flexible teaching options to all teachers. This might mean giving the choice to teach online when possible, or honoring flexible schedules so teachers can perform some work in the evenings. This will benefit both teachers who are supervising children at home and those who are immunocompromised or caring for relatives susceptible to covid-19.
Districts might consider joining the growing trend of delaying in-person start dates until October. If they do, administrators must develop a plan to support their teachers who will be working and parenting at the same time. While it will require flexibility in the short term, it will ensure that schools retain talented, committed teachers in the long run.
Community members can lend a hand, as well. The sooner covid-19 cases decrease, the sooner teachers and parents will feel comfortable returning to the classroom. You can support this effort by wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing and advocating for continued access to covid-19 testing. Teachers and parents everywhere will thank you for it.
All parents, including those of us who are educators, dream of returning to a regular school environment. By supporting teachers with children, we can bring that dream one step closer to reality.