By matt haynes
When my wife became pregnant with our first child at the start of the pandemic, I knew I would have to take every precaution to make sure I didn't get infected, including once I …
By matt haynes
When my wife became pregnant with our first child at the start of the pandemic, I knew I would have to take every precaution to make sure I didn't get infected, including once I returned in person to Tri-Valley Secondary School, where I teach English. My infection would surely lead to her infection and obvious complications, at first with a baby on the way and now with Harper Lee Haynes, our new baby girl, born Nov. 10.
There was never any question for me about going back into a school building, though. I am absolutely passionate about what I do, and I still love my job, love seeing my students every day (in person or virtually) and love being around my colleagues.
So I've altered my typical day.
Taking my temperature is a daily part of my morning ritual at home. I keep a week's worth of dress clothes at school so I can change upon arrival, change back into the clothes I commute in at the end of the day and bring home any potentially contaminated laundry at the end of the week to be washed immediately.
The precautions we take during the school day are the same as any other school district. Like my colleagues and students, I wear a mask. Students must have their temperature taken before getting on the bus in the morning. Those who come to school by car have their temperature taken before getting out of the vehicle.
A third of my students will be in the classroom on any given day, separated by six feet at all times. The other two-thirds will be virtual. Our job is to teach both groups at the same time, which essentially is like teaching two classes at once. This challenge is made harder by internet outages, computer crashes and when students online aren't in sync with students in the classroom. Consider that on a recent school day, one of my colleagues dealt with six power outages and a fire alarm before school was finally dismissed early for the day.
Even with all the extra precautions and reduced classroom occupancy, I was exposed to COVID-19 in October along with several others. While I quarantined for two weeks and taught remotely, my wife — nine months pregnant at the time — went to stay with her parents.
Even still, I take great pride in what we as a school community have done since last March to meet the needs of students.
Over the summer, members of my union, the Tri-Valley Teachers' Association, volunteered multiple days a week to deliver lunches to students who needed them. We've been asked to disinfect desks between every class, something I never imagined we'd have to do when I trained to become a teacher. My colleagues and I do all of this because of our passion for educating and watching our students grow.
But what comes next is an open question.
We've watched for months as Congress has been stuck in a stalemate over another stimulus package that would deliver sorely needed resources for schools working to keep everyone safe while operating on shoestring budgets. We've heard that Albany may need to make dramatic cuts to education to cover the massive budget gap the state faces.
For now, my district is keeping all of our classes and programs in place. But how long will that last?
Educators and students should not have to fend for ourselves in this pandemic. We need Congress to deliver real relief that helps us keep up with testing, contact tracing, PPE, ventilation and technology needs for all our students. And we need the state to consider every option at its disposal, including taxes on the ultrawealthy and rainy day reserve funds, during the upcoming legislative session.
I'll keep making the changes necessary to do the job I love. But I should not — nor should my students, my colleagues and our families — have to adapt alone.
Matt Haynes is a teacher at the Tri-Valley Central School District.
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