By Matt Haynes
This pandemic has certainly changed my life as a teacher. Ever since my wife became pregnant with our first child at the start of the pandemic, I have had to take every precaution to make sure I don’t get infected. 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, who was born Nov. 10.
So, here is a typical school day for me:
After exercising and showering in the morning, the first thing I do is take my temperature. I dress in old clothes and a pair of sandals and drive to work. Upon arriving, I get my dress shoes out of my trunk and put them on in the parking lot. Since I wear them at school all day, I don’t want them in my house. Of course, I put on a mask before entering the building. Every teacher at our school wears a mask, with some taking extra precautions like face shields. Secondary school students are required to wear masks, while elementary students wear them at the teacher’s discretion. 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.
Once arriving in my classroom, I change into dress pants, a dress shirt and a tie. I keep a week’s worth of clothing at school so that I don’t have to take any of it back home right away. The clothes I wore to school are sealed in a plastic bag so as not to contaminate anything or be exposed.
I then teach for the day: eighth-grade English language arts and 12th-grade college composition. A third of my students will be in the classroom, wearing masks and distanced at six feet. The other two-thirds will be virtual. While I am teaching the class physically in front of me, I also am livestreaming to the kids learning virtually. Our job is to teach both groups at the same time. As I’m sure you can imagine, this has its challenges. And that’s just for starters. You can add in a few other challenges, like internet outages, computer crashes or when students online aren’t in sync with students in the classroom.
For example, one of my colleagues had an amazing start to her day. First, she took homeroom attendance and the school’s power went out. She rebooted her computer and started teaching, only to have the power go out again. She rebooted again, started teaching again, and then the fire alarm went off. This meant standing outside in the cold for 25 minutes. Back inside, she started posting the assignment, only to have the power go out again. As she was rebooting, her new class started. She had just finished taking attendance when the power went out again. So she rebooted and started to show a video, only to have the power go out again! After rebooting yet again and calling up a document to share, guess what happened? Yes — the power went out. Shortly after that, school was dismissed early because of the power failures. You really can’t make these things up.
Despite these setbacks, our union and school have been great with supporting our community. Ever since COVID-19 first hit, we have supplied meals to families in need. This includes over the summer, when our members volunteered multiple days a week to deliver school lunches.
"We have had sick kids. We immediately send them home, and if the symptoms are COVID-like, they must get tested before returning."
Our school provides disinfectants. However, it is our responsibility to disinfect desks between every class. Who would have guessed years ago that disinfecting desks between each period would be part of our job description?
At the end of the day, I change back into my old clothes. My dress clothes for that day are put in a hamper at school. I’ll bring this hamper home on Friday and put the clothes in the washer as soon as I arrive. On other days, though, I get back to my car, put my dress shoes back in the trunk, change into my sandals, climb in and drive home. The minute I enter the house, I shower again to make sure I’m not bringing any virus inside.
Despite all these precautions, several of our students and staff were exposed to COVID-19 in October, including me. We had to quarantine for two weeks, and our school returned to remote learning. My wife went to stay with her parents while I quarantined.
Please understand that I am not complaining. 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 fabulous colleagues. And I’m so excited to be a father!
But educators, support staff and administrators need for our schools to have enough resources so that we can do our jobs safely to the best of our abilities. We have been in contact with our local and state officials to discuss our ever-growing needs. New York State United Teachers has been amazing with support — both in making sure we have good procedures in place and in getting us personal protective equipment and supplies. In the absence of federal support, I’m grateful that NYSUT advocates so strongly on our behalf.
Many schools are already operating on shoestring budgets. But with less state and local revenue coming in because of closed restaurants, shops, arenas and movie theaters — and now with a third wave of the virus hitting us — the talk about cutting funding is absolutely devastating and, quite frankly, disrespectful. Luckily, my district is keeping all of our classes and programs in place. But how long will that last?
"Young people are our future, and at a time like this, it seems to me that we should be putting more resources and funding than ever into their education, not less."
Our union, our schools and employees should not have to fend for ourselves in this pandemic. I should not have been exposed to COVID-19 while my wife was weeks away from giving birth.
I can assure you that I will continue to give 100 percent to my students, my school and my community. Teachers continue to put their lives on the line every day. But we need help from Congress and the U.S. Department of Education. We need the Senate to pass emergency funding for testing, contact tracing, PPE, safe school ventilation systems and strong, reliable internet service for all our students. This funding is way overdue. And we need an education secretary who provides intelligent, timely guidance — not just “Open the schools!”
I’ll do my job. Congress needs to do its job and fund our schools.
Matt Haynes is a secondary-level English teacher at Tri-Valley Central School in Grahamsville, N.Y., and a member of the Tri-Valley Teachers Association/NYSUT. He also serves as an at-large director for two NYSUT election districts.
Photos courtesy of Matt Haynes.
Republished with permission from AFT Voices.