Find your next job fast at the Jan. 28 Virtual Career Fair. Register now.
Opinion
School Climate & Safety Opinion

Should I Choose My Life Over My Life’s Purpose? A Teacher’s Dilemma

Leaders have failed us on COVID-19. Now educators are expected to face the consequences
By Allie Alejandra — August 12, 2020 3 min read
01Alejandra IMG

Less than a month stands between me and a potentially life-altering decision. It’s a decision that keeps me up at night and weighs heavily on my heart and soul. Next month, school will begin again under circumstances that have never been faced in my lifetime. Within each school building, there could lurk a disease that will forever scar the lives of students, educators, staff, and community members.

We do not yet know where, when, and how severely COVID-19 will spread in our school buildings. What we do know is that some will die, some will forever be affected by a poorly understood virus, and all involved will learn lessons only in hindsight about undeniable need for clear leadership. School districts, and everyone in them, are the test subjects of a very dangerous experiment.

Educators across the country are being tasked with impossible decisions that not only impact the children and families we serve but will alter our own lives in ways we cannot predict. America is in the middle of a raging fire, and this fire—the coronavirus pandemic—is claiming the lives of hundreds of people a day. If we had prepared correctly and used the past six months wisely to continue mitigating the spread, many of those human beings would still be alive today. A precious life is so much more than the statistical data rattled off on a graph with no deeper acknowledgment. The death that surrounds us every day has been in vain, as we continue to overlook the scientific research.

The truth is that schools are not reopening in person because education is valued."

What makes this conversation even more painful is how divided and polarized this nation has become. With the new focus on teachers and education, leaders who have failed to contain this virus are changing the narrative. It is left to educators to prepare for the unknowns that our very leaders refuse to honestly face.

I lie awake thinking about when I will be asked to re-enter my school building. Is my life purpose to face a raging pandemic in person because our schools have not mastered the technology for successful remote instruction? Because we fear the prospect of children falling behind more than the possibility of death? Is my life’s purpose to follow the orders of leaders who refuse to value life over economic wealth? What value have I placed on my own life? Do I think it’s my duty to face the consequences of the mistakes leaders made and sacrifice my soul on this earth for the greater economy? Should I speak out or tolerate the decisions made for me and pray I make it out alive without an illness that might last a lifetime?

These are questions that swirl around inside of me, taking away the joy of the safe days I have left. With every passing day, I can’t help but feel powerless in the face of the negligence and unfair responsibilities being placed on all of us. With every passing day, I become more anxious about how I can protect my life and those of my children.

I’ve been a teacher for nearly 15 years. In that time, my sole purpose has been to teach students the love of learning and to help them realize their life potential. I have reached hundreds of students in my life so far. Simply put, education is my life’s purpose. But never had I imagined needing to choose between my life’s purpose or my life.

In a month, I will be making decisions that either safeguard my life expectancy or potentially cut it short. In a month, I will either choose my life’s purpose or my actual life, all because leaders didn’t lead us as they should have.

Ignoring educators’ voices, ignoring educators’ humanity, and ultimately ignoring the lives of children is worse than shortsighted; it is immoral. Students need more at this very moment than socially distanced classrooms, where they are masked and separated to satisfy some sort of resemblance of normalcy.

Teachers are reduced to mere caretakers in this debate, not treated as experts in our field. America has long undervalued education, but it now looks to educators out of convenience and necessity. The truth is that schools are not reopening in person because education is valued. Our leaders are turning to education to get people back to work in an economy collapsing by the minute. Our entire system is built around somebody else—teachers—raising our children. Education should not be the front line for child care.

Was I essential when education funding was cut? Was I essential when my wages stayed stagnant? Was I essential when my profession was dismissed as mere babysitting? To use my love for my profession against me by asking me to return to a potentially lethal work environment is the ultimate slap in the face.

Follow the Education Week Opinion section on Twitter.

Sign up to get the latest Education Week Opinion in your email inbox.
A version of this article appeared in the August 26, 2020 edition of Education Week as Should I Choose My Life Over My Life’s Purpose?

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How to Make Learning More Interactive From Anywhere
Join experts from Samsung and Boxlight to learn how to make learning more interactive from anywhere.
Content provided by Samsung
Teaching Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: How Educators Can Respond to a Post-Truth Era
How do educators break through the noise of disinformation to teach lessons grounded in objective truth? Join to find out.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
The 4 Biggest Challenges of MTSS During Remote Learning: How Districts Are Adapting
Leaders share ways they have overcome the biggest obstacles of adapting a MTSS or RTI framework in a hybrid or remote learning environment.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Superintendent, Dublin Unified School District
Dublin, California (US)
Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates
Superintendent, Dublin Unified School District
Dublin, California (US)
Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates
ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT, HUMAN RESOURCES
Larkspur, California
Tamalpais Union High School District
Special Education Teachers
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13

Read Next

School Climate & Safety When Toxic Positivity Seeps Into Schools, Here's What Educators Can Do
Papering over legitimate, negative feelings with phrases like "look on the bright side" can be harmful for teachers and students.
6 min read
Image shows the Mr. Yuck emoji with his tongue out in response to bubbles of positive sayings all around him.
Gina Tomko/Education Week + Ingram Publishing/Getty
School Climate & Safety Opinion Teaching's 'New Normal'? There's Nothing Normal About the Constant Threat of Death
As the bizarre becomes ordinary, don't forget what's at stake for America's teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic, writes Justin Minkel.
4 min read
14Minkel IMG
Gremlin/E+
School Climate & Safety Letter to the Editor Invisibility to Inclusivity for LGBTQ Students
To the Editor:
I read with interest “The Essential Traits of a Positive School Climate” (Special Report: “Getting School Climate Right: A Guide for Principals,” Oct. 14, 2020). The EdWeek Research Center survey of principals and teachers provides interesting insight as to why there are still school climate issues for LGBTQ students.
1 min read
School Climate & Safety As Election 2020 Grinds On, Young Voters Stay Hooked
In states like Georgia, the push to empower the youth vote comes to fruition at a time when “every vote counts” is more than just a slogan.
6 min read
Young people celebrate the presidential election results in Atlanta. Early data on the 2020 turnout show a spike in youth voting, with Georgia, which faces a pair of senatorial runoffs, an epicenter of that trend.
Young people celebrate the presidential election results in Atlanta. Early data on the 2020 turnout show a spike in youth voting, with Georgia, which faces a pair of senatorial runoffs, an epicenter of that trend.
Brynn Anderson/AP