Listen to the teacher

Megan Walchuk

The back to school season is usually a time to reorganize; to shake off the late nights and lazy days and get life back to normal. We’re craving a return to normalcy now more than ever, but many families are feeling nervous about the return to school.

Teachers clearly feel apprehensive, too. Many boards are delaying opening day, and the four main unions have launched legal action on the grounds of workplace safety violations – even before the doors open to students.

Their resistance is prudent. Anyone with children knows that viruses spread with alarming speed and frequency in schools. No matter how diligently masks are worn, how frequently surfaces are cleaned and how carefully classes are cohorted, teachers are being sent into what may become the new ground zero of COVID outbreaks. And they’re in there with our children.

It’s true that other professions have braved risk during this pandemic. Medical personnel deserve every accolade they get. Our front line service staff – grocery store, restaurant and retail workers – have faced high risks, on low salaries, and deserve our respect and thanks. But many of those professions involve fleeting exposure to other people – likely not long enough to transmit a virus through two metre spacing, plexiglass shields and multiple masks.

Instead, teachers will be spending hours, indoors and in close proximity, with large groups. Loud talking, tight spaces and shared surfaces are the unavoidable norm in a school. We see similar conditions in other sectors – like meat packing plants, where outbreaks have been common and difficult to contain.

Scientists tell us that children are the least impacted by COVID, but they have also had the least exposure. For months, children were largely tucked away, insulated from crowds, discouraged from entering stores and barred from parks and play dates. Now they’re stepping out of that bubble to return to class, with teachers bearing the responsibility for keeping them safe.

We always expect a lot from our teachers, but this year, they’re going above and beyond. The least we can do is extend them our respect and support.