Educator: COVID latest change to teacher job description

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Robert Walsh is an educator in Fairfield County

Robert Walsh is an educator in Fairfield County

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A student teacher I once mentored reached out to me the other day for a recommendation. I was happy to give it but worried at the state of the profession I was sending her into.

I’d taught her as a student, so she’d heard me extol the virtues of a teaching career many times. She heard it even more when she came back to complete her hours for teaching certification with me. She took some time to see the world before returning to embark on her career.

In the interim, I fear an update in the job description is in order.

Teachers have always had to demonstrate academic competence in our subject areas while maintaining a growth mindset toward student learning and teaching practices. We’ve always been role models, held accountable for learner outcomes while collaborating with both parents and colleagues. We’ve always been expected to design and conduct differentiated learning goals and activities aligned to instructional goals while engaging the “whole child.”

I explain to new teachers that we wear several hats at school. To students who struggle with issues at home, we’re often forced to act as second parents. To parents, we act as translators between the culture at school and that which exists in the home. To our administrators, we are first responders, expected to be as adept with defibrillators, EpiPens, or bloodborne pathogens as we are with a lesson plan.

Unfortunately, to a nation desperate to get back to work amid a global pandemic, it seems that sometimes we’re looked at as little more than glorified babysitters.

A more accurate job description of a school teacher should now include that we’re expected to shield students from active shooters and lay down our lives to protect the children in our charge (but without all the hassle of hazard pay).

We’ll often need to become noncertified psychologists and social workers because there’s never enough funding for that kind of staffing. We’ll need to be ready to teach topics outside our areas of expertise because society has proven no one else will own it (and therefore we’ll need to make them areas of our expertise). Societal problems like racial inequity, economic disparity, and religious persecution will eventually be placed at our feet, regardless of what we were trained to teach. It’s the reason most of us have been combing through books on racial issues and reevaluating the vehicles with which we deliver the curriculum to better address the current national discussion.

That’s in addition to the groups we’ve joined on social media to learn about different ways to teach in this altogether unfamiliar world of pandemic education; our digital competency requirements are going through the roof. We need to learn presentation methods to reach kids with varying degrees of internet bandwidth without sacrificing content vehicles that offer rich and rewarding instruction. It used to be we needed to know how to use email and basic presentation/word processing software. Now we’re expected to troubleshoot Chromebook issues over the phone while utilizing highly interactive, content-dense applications in order to maximize instruction time even while screen time is curtailed at home.

In addition to wearing many hats, we’ll now have to wear many masks, too. Teachers will soon be deputized as the Mask Police, the Social Distancing Police, the “Don’t Trade Items From Your Lunch” Police, etc. (when we’re not wiping down all surfaces between each class, anyway). Of course, since Gov. Ned Lamont’s reopening plan contains no provisions for temperature checks or bus capacity limits, it’ll be like plugging a leaky boat with sandwich bread and declaring it seaworthy.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t envy administrators or superintendents as they navigate these infested waters. There are no perfect plans for dealing with a pandemic. It’s just confusing when state and local boards of education are meeting on Zoom to discuss reopening schools in order to send our children in-person. It’s odd to hear Lamont state last week that the coronavirus pandemic “requires extraordinary measures” when defending the closing of state beaches — which are outside. With mature adults. And a 6-foot radius between families.

Teachers are expected to protect our students indoors, with only a 3- to 6-foot radius “when feasible,” with a demographic that’s far less mature, compliant or emotionally stable. And yes, this last point could be argued.

I don’t blame people for having second thoughts about choosing teaching as a profession these days. What used to be a calling is now an excuse to be called names: freeloader, alarmist, elitist, or somehow, just plain lazy because we’re not rushing to send our children back into a building before we know we can protect them. Worse, it’s been made clear we’re expendable, collateral damage serving as the canary in the coalmine to see if other adults can go back to work as normal.

I don’t know of any teacher who doesn’t look forward to the start of the school year. I can’t imagine any of us would prefer starting this school year with distance learning. Alas, we can’t afford the luxury of preference when lives are at risk.

I hope my former student is lucky enough to experience the same sense of purpose and joy I’ve enjoyed these past 21 years in teaching. I just fear that’s no longer in the job description.

Robert Walsh is an educator in Fairfield County. You can read more at RobertFWalsh.com , contact him at RobertFWalshMail@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh .