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A teacher’s letter to America: ‘I’ve done everything for you, but you keep begging for more’

Schoolteacher Brittany Goddard protests in Salt Lake City this month. The Utah Board of Education has rejected multiple proposals requiring stricter coronavirus precautions as schools reopen across the state. (Rick Bowmer/AP)
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Remember back in March, when schools around the country began to close because of the spread of the novel coronavirus, and parents suddenly found themselves having to teach their own children at home?

Remember all the tweets from parents expressing a newfound appreciation of the job teachers do and thanking them for their efforts? (Television producer and author Shonda Rhimes famously tweeted in March: “Been homeschooling a 6-year old and 8-year old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week.”)

Well, that love affair didn’t last long. Now, teachers and their unions who are reluctant to return to classrooms without proper protective equipment and social distancing measures are being attacked by President Trump and others insistent on reopening schools during the pandemic. Teacher Nicolas Ferroni tweeted this timeline:

MARCH: Teachers are going above and beyond.
APRIL: Teachers are heroes and deserve our support.
MAY: Teachers should be millionaires.
JUNE: We need to cut school budgets.
JULY: Teachers need to go back to school.
AUGUST: Teachers are selfish and don’t care.

This post is an open letter to America from an award-winning teacher who is tired of the never-ending demands on teachers. She is Jessyca Mathews, who teaches English to juniors and seniors at Flint Carman-Ainsworth High School in the Carman-Ainsworth Community Schools. She is also an activist for racial justice and environmental causes, an author of books, poetry and blogs, and as she writes on her Twitter feed — @JessycaMathews — a supporter of “making good trouble.”

This post was first published on the website of McSweeney’s Publishing, a nonprofit publishing house founded by editor and author Dave Eggers. Mathews’s piece is one response the website received when it asked classroom teachers to describe how they are feeling about going back to work during the pandemic and how they’re planning for the year ahead.

Teachers may stage ‘safety strikes’ if forced into unsafe schools — union leader says

By Jessyca Mathews

I’ve done everything for you, but you keep begging for more.

Society, I’ve dedicated decades of my life to educating your children. In mid-May 2000, I proudly finished my first degree and months later began my journey into education. I walked into that space, thinking of all the ways I would enlighten young minds. I wanted so badly to be that teacher that would change lives.

But as years passed, my role started to evolve. I didn’t choose the shift, but you assumed that I needed to take on more duties. I became a big sister with advice sessions.

Then it turned into feeling like a parent preaching honor and self-respect.

Suddenly I became an on-demand nurse, checking foreheads for fevers and diagnosing coughs.

Next, you told me I needed to become a psychiatrist, listening, and reporting reasons for cuttings of wrists and diagnosing threats of suicides.

Some kids needed a superhero that could find the basics for survival outside of the classroom. I took on that role as well.

Society, you next asked me to complete paperwork like a receptionist outside of doing lesson plans.

And you asked me to accept being treated like an amoeba under a microscope by being constantly examined while I was doing my job so my skills as an educator could be judged.

My body and soul started to feel heavy from the added burdens, but instead of giving me care, you concluded that I should take on more.

School shootings terrorized your children, and you said I must become a soldier, analyzing intruders and developing escape routes for your children to find temporary safety. I found your request to become your children’s military bulletproof vest disturbing, given you were asking me to give up my body in combat.

I thought that things could not get any worse.

But then, the coronavirus came into our lives. And of course you have turned to me, and you are demanding more.

You said, “Create a successful new way of delivering education in less than a month.” You demanded that I should answer your questions and concerns day and night. You sneered and harshly commented that you didn’t have time or the capabilities to do my job and demanded that I go back into classrooms and teach your children.

Society, all I’ve ever wanted to do is teach. All I’ve ever wanted to do is enlighten your children. But because of your previous demands, my body is too tired to take on another role. My soul cannot stand the possibilities of standing over your children’s graves, weeping in sorrow that their lives were taken during this pandemic. My body cannot just lay in a hospital bed, hearing goodbye from my family over a nurse’s phone.

You’ve asked for so much.

If only you would have just let me teach. Maybe then I would have the strength to go on. But now, I have to cry out, “No more,” and stand up against you.

If only I could have been just a teacher.

More to read:

After teaching kids face-to-face this summer, an educator outlines the reality of reopening schools

Teacher: Eight concerns about school this fall that are robbing me of sleep