‘Driving today, I saw waves of middle and high school athletes running in very close clusters. No masks. Lots of panting, big inhales and exhales.’: Teacher pens open letter amid school reopenings, ‘I’m risking everything I’ve worked my entire life for’

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“I’m trying to figure out how to express my feelings. I’m tired of always looking on the bright side and innovating and sacrificing to accommodate others’ needs. I’ve done that my entire life, but I won’t go quietly now.

I was driving through Saline today and saw waves of middle school and high school athletes running in very close clusters. No masks. Lots of panting, big inhales and exhales.

Earlier this week, Walter saw the Michigan women’s soccer team practicing. All of them – including all coaches – were wearing masks.

I don’t get to choose which population I will be teaching face-to-face in just a few weeks.

Make no mistake. My wonderful students have not been social distancing and they haven’t been wearing masks. I have seen their social media posts all summer featuring them living life as though we aren’t in the heat of a global pandemic. I don’t blame them, actually. They are doing what their parents allow them to do. Meanwhile, I’ve worked hard to protect myself and others by social distancing and wearing masks in public for 6 months.

Courtesy of Ava Y. Butzu

Too many people haven’t taken this pandemic seriously, and soon I’ll be in a classroom with no windows and more teenagers than is safe. It’s up to me to layout and set up the classroom, keep it disinfected, and while I’m at it, cut my curriculum by half. And make a yearbook. And get kids ready for their AP Lang test. And teach online at home on Wednesdays. And enforce masking and social distancing with many kids whose families haven’t been social distancing up to this point. The kids and their families who do not want to come to school under this plan will be doing 100% virtual learning.

Courtesy of Ava Y. Butzu

Why? Why does society just expect me to roll with this?

Maybe it’s because I rarely balk or complain. I’ve taken pay cuts and freezes for a solid decade. And lost health care coverage. Maybe it’s because I’ve taken abuse from parents who feel free to criticize and insult me when they could have problem-solved with me instead. Maybe it’s because I’ve done PLCs, LSIPs, SMART goals, ALICE trainings, and Ed Camps Camps? Really? Why can’t I be treated as a professional? Ad nauseum. Maybe it’s because I’ve made myself available to students and parents 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to respond to their impatient email messages.

I’ve spent 28 years of my life driving 600 miles a week to teach. I got locked into teaching in Genesee county when I was 22 and learned too late that switching schools meant losing thousands of dollars each year under the Michigan public schools’ salary structure. No matter my experience or expertise, no school would pay me my current salary as a new hire. I’ve never had control over where I teach or my salary. I’ve been underpaid my entire life. I learned to adjust by working all summer, every summer. For 28 years. I learned too late that if I didn’t complete 30 years of teaching service in Michigan, I’d lose a significant amount of my retirement. I took way less pay than I’m worth all of my life so I could receive what I’ve sacrificed so much to earn in my retirement.

I can’t choose to take a sabbatical or leave teaching this year. I need my retirement. But I also need my life and need to not fear that I’m risking everything I’ve worked my entire life for. I’m being asked to trust a system that has never had my best interest at heart. Michigan teachers have been blamed for society’s ills for far too long.

Courtesy of Ava Y. Butzu

I refuse to accept that the only way forward is to teach face-to-face amid this pandemic. I’ve been teaching online classes synchronously for the past month. It isn’t ideal, but it’s safe, and it works.

I know I’m not supposed to complain or demand what I deserve. 28 years of teaching has conditioned me to just accept what I’m given and be grateful. But why should I pretend to be okay with this? What’s the real reason my husband Walter and I are being asked to risk our lives and all we have worked to enjoy in retirement? You tell me.”

Courtesy of Ava Y. Butzu

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ava Y. Butzu. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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