By TEA President Beth Brown
When we teach our young children to process their feelings, we often say “use your words.” Right now, amid a raging pandemic, I have a lot of feelings...and a lot of words.
I feel lonely. To mitigate risk to myself and to others, I’ve spent the past few months in my home, by myself. My professional obligations are conducted virtually, which just doesn’t compare to being able to walk down the hall, sit down with a colleague, and talk through an issue. And my personal life? It’s non-existent. I miss my mom; I miss my friends; I miss life. Heck, I even miss rush-hour traffic.
I feel betrayed. A few short months ago, educators’ efforts were repeatedly and publicly praised by communities and policymakers. There were calls for increased educator pay and elimination of resource and opportunity gaps for students. Those calls have faded, and educators face the new school year with inadequate resources to meet the challenges ahead.
I feel anxious. In many parts of our state, educators and students will return to school buildings without the guarantee of personal protective equipment or adequate cleaning supplies, and in many parts of the state, the spread of the coronavirus is not contained. Will educators and students be infected? Will they unknowingly carry the virus home to their families?
I feel conflicted. I am torn between returning to my building or continuing to work remotely. How do I balance my safety with my desire to do my job most effectively? Educators across the state are feeling the same, with some even contemplating the gut-wrenching question “Should I leave the professional altogether?”
I feel guilty. Most educators put their students’ needs before their own: it’s simply who we are as people and as professionals. But right now, my priority is my own health and wellbeing, which is entirely contrary to my nature and is creating an immense sense of shame—even though I know it is unwarranted.
I feel angry. It is reprehensible that there is even discussion of resuming in-person instruction in areas where the coronavirus is not contained. When I hear statements that school buildings must reopen regardless of risk, I am outraged that educators have been deemed expendable.
I am a Tennessee educator, and I am not alone in having these feelings. But there’s something else I feel.
I feel trust.
I trust that TEA will continue to advocate at the local, state, and national levels for the resources that our educators and students need during this unprecedented time. I trust that TEA will elevate educators’ voices to the media, to communities, and to local and state policymakers. I trust that TEA will fight for me.
I trust that as our state continues to grapple with how and when schools reopen, TEA will remain—as it has been for over 150 years—the strongest advocate for Tennessee’s students and educators.