Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.
In-person teaching has been happening for nearly a month. The process, however, is anything but perfect. Despite safeguards and the availability of masks and sanitizers, some students, teachers and staff are getting sick.
Today, there are empty seats in my classroom. In addition, there’s an email stating that someone in my class has been identified as being exposed to COVID. The letter claims that we are not in danger, but if you want, you can get tested on campus.
A mixture of anger and anxiety swells up in me. I'm beginning to wonder if this job is worth keeping, despite the years I've put into it.
We’re supposed to be safe, but COVID has a long, stubborn reach.
However, I’m wearing a mask, as are the remaining students. And they have, for the most part, been following school protocol by wearing them. Well, not all. I’ve given warnings to student who wore their masks improperly or for bringing in food and eating in class (thus taking off their masks, entirely). The repeat offenders -- and there are many -- have been written up numerous times and sent to the office.
We’re supposed to be safe, but COVID has a long, stubborn reach. It’s not going away even as many of us get our vaccinations and booster shots. And some folks --albeit friends, family, colleagues and students -- are not rushing to get the shots to help put an end to this pandemic. Was insanity a byproduct of COVID? That's a question I often ask myself.
Lesson In Pallid
Life goes on. It’s fifth period and this is my 10th grade special education English class. The warm-up lesson for the day is a vocabulary term. The word is "Pallid''.
As I’ve done before, I project the word on the board, via slides. It includes sample sentences on one slide that shows how the word is used:
- “Because he was sick, he had a pallid look.”
- “The doctors noticed how pallid the COVID patient looked.”
The last entry was chosen for a reason: it’s relevant.
Thus, I read the sentence out loud so the students can hear how the word sounds, as well as how it is used in a sentence. Afterward, I ask the students a question, hoping to trigger their prior knowledge about the word.
“Has anyone had or had a family member get it?”
Not the Answer I Was Looking For
One student, Bernard, raises his hand.
“So what was your experience?” I ask
"I ha.. COVID,” Bernard said.
I am not sure what he said. It’s tough to hear exactly what a student says. The mask muffles the sound.
“You mean you had it?" I ask, hoping for clarity. "What was that like?”
“No,” he said, clearly, “I have it!”
His comment stops me in my tracks. Suddenly, I’m facing a dilemma. I fall silent as I ruminate on the situation.
Finally, I jump to a quick solution to the matter: “ Can you step outside?”
He steps outside. Yet, an unsettling reality hits me; this student may have infected an entire class, including me.
School protocol mentions that if anyone is in contact with a possibly infected student, they have to stay at home until and get tested. Once there is a negative test result, they can return. My life will be disrupted as well as the students in the class.
Moments like these you have to think quickly. Having him go outside was an immediate response. There's another pressing need; I have get the administrators involved.
I pick up the phone to call security.
Things Get Worse
"I have a student that just told me he has COVID," I tell security.
"Where's he at?" he asks.
"I placed him outside," I answer.
He tells me someone will be coming, soon.
I step outside to let him know what's going to happen. But, to my horror, I discover he's not there.
I grit me teeth; the kid is roaming the campus, possibly infecting others.
The other students who watched this event unfold, don't seem to be concerned about the possibility that one of their peers is infected.
In fact, they find it odd that I'm "overreacting" to this situation.
"You're actually calling security on him for that?" one student says.
"Mister," another says, "why are snitching him out?"
They may not take it seriously. And that's unfortunate.
This is not the first time a student knowingly showed up with the virus. A few days before, a student wearing two masks was discovered to have COVID. He was in bad shape, too, running a fever. When officials confronted his mother, she stated that she knew he had it, but didn’t have anyone to take care of him at home while she was at work. Thus, she told him to put on two masks and go to school.
As a colleague mentioned about this incident: “They’re out to kill us” with those poor decisions.
Then, when I'm thinking that my hasty decision was unraveling, I see Bernard coming up the stairs. It turns out he went to the bathroom downstairs. I’m angry at him and at myself. I should’ve told him to stay put.
On the other hand, he shouldn’t have gone anywhere and possibly infected others. He shouldn’t have come to school in the first place.
I tell Bernard he needs to stay by the railings and wait for security to pick him up. Suddenly, he changes his story.
“It was all a joke!”
His friend finds it incredulous that I’m following through...
Again, the students in the classroom have something to say. In particular one of Bernard's friend that overheard the conversation pipes in: “He’s just joking. That’s all. Oh my God! You called security on him for that?”
I called security before this revelation. I wonder how he'd missed that.
Still, the wheels are in motion. A few seconds later, I see security heading up the stairs in front of my classroom.
Whether Bernard is telling the truth or not, there's no turning back, despite Bernard's pleas, and the other students' pleas.
Consequence of a Joke
I'm flabbergasted. He really thought that was funny?
The security officer shows up and Bernard turns to them to plead his case. They are not moved by his defense.
He glances at me, hoping I’d give him a chance. I just shake my head and inform the security officer about the Bernard's prank. The officer roles his eyes.
"We've had to deal with this before," he says after a sigh.
“Take him away,” I say, agitated. "I'll write a log entry about this."
Bernard still pleads his case to the officer.
The officer's reply is to say: "Yeah, whatever. Let's go."
Finally, he's taken away. After he’s gone, the the remaining students continue to defend him, stipulating that he was only joking.
I look at them and simply say: “You don’t joke about things like that.”
Is it Worth It?
Teachers at the school are taking leave of absences or are resigning their post. Parents are pulling their students out of school. Anxiety among students, teachers and staff are at an all-time high.
A student thinking that this would be the perfect time to pull a stupid prank about having COVID doesn’t set well with me.
The period ends and lunch begins. But, I’m too angry to eat. It’s been over a month since I left the comfort and safety of my Spokane home to go teach in-person at my Southern California school. Every fiber in my body screams to quit. But, I keep reminding myself that I only have a few more years left before I can go for an early retirement and head back to the Pacific Northwest.
Student behavior, parent apathy and constant strains of a pandemic makes that decision hard. In frustration, I pound my desk with my fist.
Letter of Apology
I compose myself and decide to visit a nearby colleague to tell him what happened. However, when I get there, I discover that another teacher within my department has decided to call it quits and take a teaching position on the East Coast. She’ll be leaving in November.
I tell my colleague about the incident in class. Just then, as I stand at his door, somebody taps me on the shoulder. I turn to see Bernard, holding a letter addressed to me.
He says “I’m sorry” and leaves me the letter.
He states that he is sorry (again) that he lied about having COVID. He wrote the letter in his own words with all the misspellings. I can tell the intervention specialists made him write the letter.
Whether he’s sincere or not, the letter is a marginally acceptable end to this matter. Still, I think about the Great Resignation that’s occurring across the country. Increasingly, those resigning their jobs are teachers.
Lack of support from administrators is given as a top reason. But, that’s the tip of the iceberg. I’ve heard classroom conditions, lack of supply, and the rise of specialized groups' intrusion on what’s taught in schools as being other reasons. One, however, that doesn’t get mentioned -- but is a major concern -- is safety.
Although vaccination is ready, as well as boosters, there are those that refuse to take it. And, as a result, we still have to social distance from another, wear masks, and report anyone with suspicious symptoms.
Ultimately, I decide the stay. I will not quit over this incident. But, I fear that as this year progresses, that decision to stay will be tested.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Dean Traylor