Tennessee Education Association

Great Public Schools for All Students


How to ease professional challenges amid upheaval

By TEA President Beth Brown

Jessica Stern, a research professor at Boston University, said, “Some people’s lives seem to flow in a narrative; mine had many stops and starts. That’s what trauma does. It interrupts the plot...It just happens, and then life goes on. No one prepares you for it.” 

Nothing and no one could have prepared any of us for the ongoing personal and professional trauma of COVID-19. 

We weren’t prepared to abruptly end in-person instruction last spring and finish the year teaching remotely, with no sense of closure or opportunity to say goodbye to our students. 

We weren’t prepared to teach in person and remotely at the same time, as so many of us are this fall. We weren’t prepared for a doubled workload as we courageously and creatively try to meet the needs of the students we see in person and those we see through a computer screen. 

We weren’t prepared to become armchair epidemiologists, studying active case rates and new case rates and trying to calculate the risk of infection to ourselves, our families, and our students. 

We weren’t prepared to forfeit our family and friends. We weren’t prepared to give up hugs and holidays and celebrations and community for an ever-lengthening period of time. 

We weren’t prepared to live with perpetual guilt. We weren’t prepared for the persistent worry that we’re not doing enough for ourselves, our families, or our students. 

We weren’t prepared for the narrative of “us versus them.” We weren’t prepared for a blatant disregard of our needs—our health—as we continue to serve our students to the best of our abilities. 

I’ll say it again: nothing and no one could have prepared us for the upheaval COVID-19 has created in our lives. However, there are steps that can be taken to ease our professional challenges. 

As infection rates spike, it is imperative that the state collects and reports accurate case counts within school districts. Failure to do so forces school district leaders to make health decisions for which they are ill-equipped. As infection rates spike, districts need additional funding to provide high-quality PPEs, additional cleaning services, air filtration systems, and paid leave for educators who need to quarantine. As infection rates spike, it is time for the state to give direct guidance on suspending instruction immediately where infection rates for educators and the communities they serve change. It is not lost on Tennessee educators that most state employees are working remotely while the governor pushed for educators to get back into our classrooms. Educators deserve to be treated fairly and with the same concern. 

There is no substitute for in-person instruction. However, our commitment to our students should not cost us our health, or possibly our lives or the lives of our loved ones. 

It is time for Governor Lee to recognize that, when the data shows that there is undue or exceptional health risk to educators, he must call on districts to suspend in-person instruction until infection rates are under control. 

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