Six weeks ago, students were happily greeted by educators in the Cedar Rapids Community School District, whether that was in person, or a virtual setting. Just like our fellow Cedar Rapidians, teachers are happy to be back doing the work we were called to do, educating children.
Despite our joy to be working with students once again, we are stressed out and filled with worries.
Educators are not OK!
With cases of COVID-19 spreading throughout our schools in a face-to-face setting, we are worried that we won’t be able to avoid an outbreak in our classroom that will result in either a student or colleague becoming seriously ill, or worse. Our classrooms are not large enough to implement adequate social distancing measures with class sizes of 20 students. We are fortunate if we have three feet of space between students. This includes the time when students are unmasked eating breakfast and lunch in our classrooms for 20 to 25 minutes at a time. A COVID-19 outbreak under these conditions is unavoidable — it is a question of when, not if.
Educators working in the remote learning model report spending on average each week at least 15.5 hours and up to 30.9 hours in addition to their contracted 40 hours for which they are paid. This is the additional time required for planning, preparing materials and communicating with families each week. Modifying instructional content and materials to implement in a remote setting is extremely time consuming. With class rosters exceeding 40 students (elementary level) to as high as 118 at the middle and high school level, our educators are putting in hours that continue to take them away from their own families. Middle and high school, as well as some special education teachers are required to simultaneously teach remote and in person. Educators are burning out quickly this school year.
The impact of the damage from the Aug. 10 Derecho only complicates the lives of our educators. Those in buildings where damage prevented them from opening earlier must now master a whole new “in-person” approach just when they had become adept at the “online” mode — essentially starting all over. Educators are finding themselves forced to navigate the challenges of teaching during a pandemic with a substitute teacher shortage, not knowing who might be positive for COVID in their classroom, and the need to provide consistency for students. Educators barely find time to use the bathroom during the school day.
The list of challenges educators face this year goes on and on. Educators in Cedar Rapids and across the state are at a breaking point. The unrealistic demands are unsustainable.
Our governor and president, along with the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature have not provided the necessary funding for school districts to hire the additional staff needed to adequately reduce class size. Though nothing new, state Republicans’ failure to provide adequate funding over recent years takes on new urgency during this pandemic as resources to ensure proper air ventilation and purchase the necessary PPE to reopen our schools safely have not been forthcoming.
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Our president and governor have failed to provide the necessary leadership to implement policies and practices, and have not provided necessary funding to increase testing and limit the spread of COVID-19 in our schools. They aren’t listening to educators or scientists. They are putting our students, educators and communities in harm’s way by not taking COVID-19 seriously and requiring virus mitigation measures to decrease the spread of the virus.
Educators are not OK! We need your help!
Please vote for students, educators and your community this November by supporting Democrats up and down the ballot.
Kelly McMahon is a teacher at Hoover Elementary and treasurer of the Cedar Rapids Education Association.