The COVID Chasm: Educators Stuck In The Pandemic Divide

Educators, do you feel the COVID chasm?

“The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us.” – Nelson Mandela

Since March 13, when my 29-year teaching career suddenly pivoted into unknown territory, I feel the COVID chasm growing deeper in education.

So much of what we always did, what we always knew, what always ‘worked’ dissolved with the movement to online, crisis teaching.

Some teachers literally pivoted over night. Some, like me, had an amorphous ramp-up time, highlighting the literal and physical break in our system.

Four months later, rethinking how we ‘do’ school isn’t a place most teachers thought we’d be. Many of us thought we’d be out of the building for a few weeks at best, just enough time to let the virus blow over. We’d be back for the last quarter, be able to see all our hard work pay off with celebrations, projects, graduations, and promotions – all the best parts of the school year showing themselves off.

When we left our classrooms, many of us never realized we wouldn’t open the doors again for months, not anticipating it would be like unlocking a time capsule that would bring us to tears.

And the most disturbing part is, this chasm, this great divide between what we knew then and what we know now, continues to widen, to separate and fragment, and is leaving all educators – particularly teachers, wondering where to find solid footing.

The COVID chasm divides

This COVID chasm divides the risk-friendly with the risk-averse, crisis teaching with online instruction, parents with teachers, the government with education, people of color with what’s equitable, and what YOU say with what I hear.

It’s the reason why teachers are scared – me included.

Before, the split between education’s early adopters of technology, (the risk-friendly types), and mainstream teachers (the more risk-averse types) was less visible. Suddenly, ALL teachers adopted technology in order to keep the school going – thus exposing students and families to staggering levels of preparedness. Those who used to rely on ‘the way we’ve always done it’ found themselves lost, isolated, and overwhelmingly untrained to execute distance learning.

The COVID chasm exposes

COVID chasm

It exposed a systemic problem in education, a deep, broken and yet firmly foundational system that locked our schools in place – and a system that can benefit from disruption.

When conflict happened pre-pandemic, it was easier for parents and teachers to ‘agree to disagree’. Many times – or most – teachers would breathe deeply and try to remember that they are the education experts, even when parents were telling them how to teach. With teachers planted as responsible for a failing economy if we refuse to support face to face instruction, the chasm between parent and teacher gapes.

As our country confronts the COVID-19 crisis, the deep separation between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ reveals the inequity in educational funding. Big business bailouts versus devastating cuts in education pit neighbor against neighbor, political parties against each other. Educators, expected to do more with less, feeling devalued and expendable, wonder if it’s worth it anymore. Why wonder if they can be expected to resume ‘business as usual’ and put their life on the line. Do teachers need to die for their jobs?

And the chasm between BIPOC and whites, between those who are most impacted by the virus, least likely to have healthcare, job security, or choice about sending their kids back into school buildings – including BIPOC educators – perhaps they feel the COVID chasm most intimately.

Educators can tell you what’s best for children – it’s to be surrounded by people who care, people who want to listen and hear what they’re saying, by people who understand that the trauma of being put into unsafe school situations is greater than the trauma of missing one fall or one year of face to face instruction.

Educators know what to do

COVID chasm

Educators are trained to do what’s best for kids – and when you say, “It’s not that bad…kids need to be in school with their friends”, what we hear is, “Your life is less important than mine – otherwise I would be fine hosting all 30 of my kid’s classmates for a play date”.

When you say, “We need to have a Zoom meeting to discuss re-opening ideas”, what we hear is, “The virus is too dangerous to meet in person, but not too dangerous to put teachers in classrooms”.

When you say, “Just put up a tent outside – it’s safe out there”, we hear,”Teachers are babysitters and camp counselors, not educators”.

And when you say, “Distance learning didn’t work for my kid last spring”, we hear you say, “Teachers failed – even though we did our best with little time and no training.”

It’s time to think about Nelson Mandela’s words: “The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us.”

Bridging the divides

We know better and we can do better. Together, we can bridge the divides before us, and take this disruption and run with it. We can take care of our students, we can figure out solutions – but only if we take the time. The time is now. It’s time for teacher training in online learning and increased government funding for education. We need equitable access to healthcare and collaboration between families and schools. This pandemic shouldn’t bring out our worst – let us work together to heal our wounds and do what’s best for our kids.

Teachers shouldn’t have to be forced to decide between their profession and their life, or the lives of their families. That’s not going to make education better. That’s one chasm that we cannot bridge – but so many of these we can.

What do you say – are you willing to help fix the COVID chasm, or not? Remember – you are what you DO – not what you SAY you’ll do. Time to step up for education.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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