I’m a teacher. I pour my heart into my students. Every Day. From first bell to last, I show them love. I grant them access to my heart and mind and do my best to access theirs. It’s my calling and my job. And I love it.
There’s a movie I used to love called Freedom Writers. It’s the story of a teacher and her students — students society has shunned. Problem students. Rebellious students. Students most likely to be given up on. But this teacher doesn’t. She’s determined to help them see their potential, to find their voice, to show them the power of using it to better themselves and the world around them. What’s not to love, right? It’s what I try to do with my students. It is my number one goal.
So I was telling this fellow teacher how much I love this movie, and she floored me by saying she hated it. Really? She’s a literature and writing teacher too — and her personal story isn’t too far removed from the students’ in the film. She grew up rough, she spent her fair time in alternative schools. She didn’t trust herself, her abilities, or her voice. She was a rebel who found a cause in teaching. She dedicated her life to helping kids find themselves and their voice.
So I wondered, really wondered, why this teacher friend of mine hated this movie so much.
“Because that teacher gave too much of herself,” she said. “She destroyed her marriage, her mental health, her life outside of teaching. She gave TOO much.”
My friend wasn’t lying.
And that made me think about our current situation — teaching in a pandemic. Giving and giving and giving to fit our students’ needs. Because need us, they do. They need to be in school. They need the socialization and they need the quality of an in-person classroom. We saw – and are still seeing – the fallout from not having classes and classmates in person the last year and a half.
And we teachers need to be in school, too. Their faces, their physical presence keeps the fire lit inside us. Its a symbiotic relationship. Physical connections fuel educational connections.
But what does that mean for us as teachers? For the teachers who care passionately and want to give our students our very best so they may have the very best education?
It means we risk destroying ourselves in the process. These days, our hearts are at risk. Literally and figuratively. But more on that in a minute…
While we teachers work, our own children attend school. Many of them are too young to be vaccinated. Still, we send them to school because we believe in the power of in-person education, despite the risks. Right now, the benefits outweigh the risks, so I believe they are where they need to be. But they are not as safe as they could be. The risks could be reduced for them, even without the ability to be vaccinated yet. Masks can help reduce their risk.
But in most places, there are no school mask mandates. And without mask mandates — or at least the autonomony in our classrooms to require them — the virus will spread like wildfire. The Delta variant is hitting kids as fast as adults. It is as contagious as measles.
Wearing a mask does less to help the person wearing it than it does to those around them. So when my children wear masks and no one else does, their masks do little for them. And if I, a vaccinated teacher who poses little to no risk to others, wear one, it does very little to help my students. But if we all wear masks, it does innumerable good. And if we all wear masks, it does zero harm.
Because I’m not saying put a needle in your arm and subject yourself to “poison” or “policing,” or whatever notions you firmly believe in. That’s your right. But I am saying put on a mask to help protect MY CHILDREN. And my immunocompromised friends. And my medical provider friends and family who are exhausting themselves – giving WAY TOO MUCH OF THEMSELVES – for people who don’t believe the virus is a big deal.
And speaking of giving too much of yourself. Let me get back to how we are all — every last one of us — putting our hearts literally at risk. Let me tell you about my baby sister.
She’s 50 years old and she contracted a light case of covid last year. Sniffles, sore throat, fever, body aches, loss of taste and smell. She had zero comorbidities and was presumably fine afterward, but six months later she discovered the long-term effects. The virus had desiccated her heart. Her previously healthy, Peleton-bike-riding, yoga-loving heart.
She thought she’d developed exercise-induced asthma. She began coughing with exertion. Having trouble breathing during exercise. Things went from bad to worse. She nearly collapsed climbing a flight of stairs.
An x-ray revealed major issues. A cardiologist was consulted. The diagnosis: myocarditis due to Covid. A heart function of 12%. She’s been on medication and a life vest for two months and showing little improvement. So in the next week, she’ll go into the OR for a defibrillator/pacemaker combo and then again later for a valve replacement. If these measures don’t work, she’ll be put on a heart transplant list.
My previously healthy, vibrant, mask-wearing baby sister, 50 years old.
And the same thing is now happening to 20-40 somethings at high, high rates. They are coding in ERs every night. They are filling up hospital floors and ICUs faster than they were last January. And the morgues are getting there. And the cardiologists, they’re busier than they’ve ever been.
Can we ALL please just wear our masks?
And I know while I’m writing this that I won’t change anybody’s minds. That those who hate masks and rage against vaccines won’t read what I write. Or if they do, it’ll be to lash out at me. Or troll me. Or laugh behind my back. I know that. I’m not writing it for them.
I’m writing to the people who will read my words because they believe, because their hearts are in this and they know we’re in deep. They believe if we don’t do something, the outcomes will be tragic. They believe in the power of prevention. They believe in protecting our loved ones, keeping our kids in school, and our economy afloat.
I’m begging friends like these to please pick up their masks and pick up their phones and to use their voices and help change the world.
Help us keep from sacrificing way too much: our children, our medical professionals, and our economy. Please.
(And if you have similar personal stories or concerns and want to reach out, please feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)