After what I thought was the hardest year and a half of my 20 year public school teaching career, returning to in-person learning with students that haven’t been in a classroom setting since they were three years old, or never at all, has presented a myriad of challenges I severely underestimated.
I teach first through third graders at a Chicago Public School on the West side. We have been in person for over 10 weeks now, and exhaustion and fatigue are at an all time high for myself and the educators I work with.
Chicago Public Schools started a week before their usual post-Labor Day start date to mitigate the learning loss of remote/hybrid instruction. With academic and social emotional needs at an all time high, we returned to overcrowded classrooms with no additional staff hired to support the students or educators. Despite $2.6 billion in federal COVID relief funds, Chicago Public Schools are facing severe shortages of substitute teachers, special education classroom assistants, janitorial staff, bus drivers, nurses, and social workers.
Educators are facing so many stressors that many, including myself, are questioning if they can even continue in education. With little to no safety protocols in place other than a mask mandate, students and staff are continuing to contract COVID. Just this week, four classrooms in my building “flipped” to remote instruction due to a student or staff member testing positive for COVID. This is an extreme burden for teachers and working parents. Teachers are given one day to set up an online system for learning. Parents are scrambling again to find care for their children during the day.
Teachers and parents are desperate to keep their kids in school. It has been an extremely hard transition back to in person learning. The children are highly emotional in a way I have never experienced in my teaching career. It is difficult to get students to pay attention to lessons, complete work, or sustain focus for even short periods of time.
So many of the issues we were facing prior to the pandemic are exacerbated under these conditions. The $2.6 billion in federal aid needs to go towards hiring more teachers and staff to drastically reduce class sizes. I currently have 27 children in a very small classroom. There are over 50 closed CPS schools that could be reopened in order to make class sizes smaller. Having smaller class sizes would allow for students to actually social distance. It would reduce the stressors on educators and allow for them to focus on the specific needs of the students instead of spending so much time on classroom management.
More janitorial staff are needed to keep up with the cleaning protocols necessary. My school’s janitors are working overtime to keep our school clean, and there are still days where classrooms go uncleaned. This is especially troubling because we are eating breakfast and lunch in our classrooms to reduce the number of students in the cafeteria.
School counselors and social workers need to be hired to help students deal with the negative social emotional consequences of the isolation and stressors faced during the pandemic.
It is crucial that educators and parents are organized within their school buildings to demand that the response to lost classroom time be educator- and student-centered to avoid the inevitable co-optation by advocates of corporate education “reform” and top-down decisions made by the administration.
The Chicago Teachers Union, and unions across the country, must demand that the federal relief funds be spent on the resources we so desperately need like the mass hiring of educators, nurses, and support staff to help kids who are academically behind and in need of social emotional support.
The federal relief funds are just the start to what we need to fully fund public education. In Chicago, we need to tax the trillions of dollars a year flowing through LaSalle Street. We must tax the rich and large corporations like we did in Seattle with the Amazon Tax to fund schools, affordable housing, and much needed social services that working class families need.
Educators, families, and the community can come up with the best solutions to the long term COVID complications that have been piled upon the existing problems of our underfunded public school systems if they have the resources and funding to do so.