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  • Writer's pictureHunter Cresswell

Teachers and support staff called to the frontline

Updated: May 1, 2020

As the debate heats up over Quebec schools opening May 11, the Low Down received this poignant letter from a teacher at Wakefield Elementary:

As an elementary school teacher and a mother of young children, I am struggling to understand the rationale behind the hasty decision to open elementary schools, during the midst of a worldwide pandemic.

This has been a difficult time. At every turn of this crisis, we have been on the edge of our nerves. It has been a roller coaster of emotions, for everyone. Right now, my rollercoaster cart is dropping fast.

There was a press conference yesterday and I hoped it would answer many of my questions but it only generated frustration and more unanswered questions.

Throughout this pandemic, the message has been clear. To stay home and you will be safe. Now, teachers and support staff are being told to leave our homes and enter back into the classroom. There seems to be one message for teachers and support staff and a completely different message for the general public. Evidently, research on the virus is in its early stages and we clearly do not fully understand how it operates. So, why risk the health of children, teachers, support staff and their families? I hate to think of us as guinea pigs.

Before the pandemic schools were suffering. Teachers and parents; funding school supplies. Teachers having to buy basic necessities like soap and cleaning products for their classroom, janitors having the amount of cleaning solution they used monitored. Many students in regular classrooms with individualized education programs and special needs not being able to access services that they need. A lack of support staff for maintenance and cleaning of schools. Students squashed into classrooms like sardines in a can and finally the lack of teachers and substitute teachers.

Ministers mention the importance of "learning" but how can this be learning? The environment you are asking us to set up is clearly not conducive to learning. It will be a melting pot of anxiety and stress. We won’t be teaching we will be managing how students move, or don’t move, and keeping up with constant disinfecting. All our best teaching practices are taken away with social distancing. As teachers, we do not stand in front of the classroom and lecture to rows. This teaching method is ineffective and outdated. To ask young students to conform to the two-meter social distancing rule will be impossible. Children are naturally tactile and social little people. I question how all of this will affect the mental health of students and staff.

Similar to the health care sector the education sector has been suffering from lack of funding and investment. The lack of investment in schools has made conditions bad but during a crisis like this, it will make conditions dire.

We are fighting against a contagious virus that has no vaccine or cure. Take a look at the frontline fighters; teachers and nurses. Teachers and nurses are predominantly women (Stats Canada’s numbers show that 84 per cent of elementary school teachers are women). When it comes to actual physical war women are discouraged to be in the frontline battle. In the case of a worldwide pandemic, we are forced to be on the frontline and to fight without any of the correct protective equipment.

Let’s call this what it really is, a strategy to babysit young children whilst François Legault desperately tries to get the economy restarted. This is not teaching. I am not pulling the victim card here, I am angry. Angry, that ministers think it is okay to put students, staff and their families at risk. We have been offered no personal protective equipment or reassurance. The only thing that we have been given is an ill-conceived plan. I understand the economic harm of keeping school closed is significant but it is calculable. We do not know about the harms of reopening schools. It’s gambling.

I want to get back into the classroom. I want to see my students. I love my profession. However, we are human beings with feelings and legitimate concerns. To drop us into an ocean of uncertainty is cruel and unfair. To tell us not to worry because the hospital beds are ready to receive us is disgusting.

I am asking for more time. Time for all concerned to develop a thorough and clear plan that will keep us all safe.

Alison Hopper

Wakefield Elementary School teacher


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