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Essential Workers: Should Teachers Be Added To The List?

I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies, and LGBT advocacy.

Isn't Education Also Essential?


What's Essential To You?

I have friends who are in medicine, pharmacy, nursing, and construction, among other professions. All of these have, to one degree or another, been declared essential in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. I also have a sister living in Alberta, Canada, who works as a therapist. She, too, has been deemed essential as she tries to help people deal with their mental health challenges. Educators, and by extension education as a whole, are not considered essential.

According to the Government of Canada website, Preventing COVID-19 In The Workplace: Employers, Employees And Essential Service Workers, "Essential workers are considered critical to preserving life, health and basic societal functioning." Do educators preserve life? Not to the extent that our health care professionals do - not by a long shot - but I know I have had a student who credited me with saving her life simply by showing her I cared. I'm sure several of my colleagues have similar stories, though I freely acknowledge the incredibly hard work done by these frontline heroes that hold patients' hands and comfort them when they are scared and frightened about what's going to happen to them once they've been diagnosed with COVID-19. My friends in health care, in particular, are exhausted from dealing with this crisis, and by no means do I put what I do on the same level as them. They have offered comfort and life-saving measures every COVID patient out there, and they have struggled with their own sense of powerlessness as this virus ravages the globe.

I also have heard plenty of stories from my colleagues where they know of students who have felt as though they'd been "saved" by an educator. It may not be life-saving on the level that health care workers have experienced, but all I can go by is the lived experiences I've seen with students.

Educators may not necessarily preserve the health of our students, but we do the best we can, particularly during this COVID crisis. We've encouraged students to stay socially distant as best as they can in crowded classrooms, encouraged them to continue wearing their masks properly, and encouraged them to not congregate as best as we can. We've encouraged ongoing handwashing or sanitizing. We've also done our best to safeguard our students' mental health during one of the biggest health crises of the current generation.

Do educators preserve basic societal functioning? I like to think we do. We encourage students to use appropriate words and behavior when dealing with their colleagues and the educators in their lives. We try to encourage good order and civility in our classes. Is it a perfect system? No - what system is, really? However, next to a student's parents, it's an educator who helps a student grow into a contributing, healthy member of society. We help them understand why certain functions of society occur the way they do and work with them to help them see what their role in society might be and how they can be helpful to that.

This is why I am not quite certain as to why educators have not been deemed essential at any point in this pandemic. We keep touting education as a key to students overcoming poverty, and yet, we haven't been deemed essential. We deal with students daily who are coming to us hungry - for knowledge, for sure, but sometimes also for food and for safety - and sometimes ill, either with physical or mental health challenges. We stand in front of busy classrooms, manage conflicts that occur between personalities in the class - because sometimes, there are some very strong personalities that are at play in any given classrooms - and we support students when they are struggling.

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While schools are not necessarily perfect, they are sometimes the one safe haven in a student's - and yes, sometimes an educator's - life. Students are now once again at home, relegated to receiving an education that should be deemed essential but has only been made even more challenging due to that education being delivered online. Educators are still trying to ensure their students feel safe and cared for in spite of a screen being in front of their faces, and we are continuing to work towards delivering a very essential education to our students.

So why, then, aren't educators considered "essential?" Does education occur in a vacuum?

I do realize that declaring educators as an essential profession would put us in a very trying position and would potentially compromise any negotiations to agreements in the future. However, I do believe that the implication that educators - and by extension, education - are not essential workers dangerously devalues education, and I don't know that we can afford to do that.


Rohit Singh from Narela , Delhi-40, India on January 14, 2021:

Do you have any doubt ?

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