Op-Ed on Reopening Schools: An Educator’s Perspective From Early August

At the time of this writing (Aug 2), it still unclear what September will look like for Long Island public schools.  The governor has promised to lay out clear guidelines for our schools sometime this week.  In the meantime, individual districts have been charged with coming up with three plans: full attendance, fully remote and a hybrid combination of the two.  The idea is that the districts may very well need to shift from one model to another during the course of the school year, depending on the changing COVID statistics on Long Island.

None of these solutions are ideal.  The burden of decision-making is difficult and complex.  It also safe to say that no decision will satisfy everyone.  We all want to return to normal face-to-face operations. I want this as a teacher. The 500+ members that I represent want this. I want this as a parent of a child that will enter Kindergarten in the fall.

As a teacher, the thought of not interacting with my students face to face, under normal circumstances is both heartbreaking and terrifying.  When schools were forced onto virtual platforms this past March, the transition was difficult but not impossible.  I already had developed a relationship and rapport with my students at that point and we were able to navigate the scenario together. 

This September is a completely different situation.  How do I develop that teacher-student relationship via a computer screen?  It’s just not the same.  How much do my students sacrifice by not having the opportunity to work and collaborate face to face with their peers?  I don’t think any of us can really answer that question.

As a union leader, I worry about the health of the teachers I represent.  The fact is that someone will get sick.  Will they recover?  Will they have any lasting long-term health issues?  Will someone succumb to the virus and pass away?  I can’t promise anyone safety.  I can’t promise that they won’t infect a family member.  These items weigh heavily on my mind.

As a parent, I know that my child has suffered.  He is a bright boy that is losing precious time to develop academically and socially.  He needs to be in school.  He needs to be with children his own age.  He needs a teacher that is not also his dad.  Do these needs outweigh the risks of face to face instruction?  Once again, I don’t have an answer.

Through all of this, I would like to acknowledge that my situation is actually better than most.  I have a spouse that can stay home and care for a child that might not be in school when I am at work.  I have a school administration that is willing to work with me and attempt to find a way through this morass as partners rather than adversaries.  I have a union membership that trusts me to make the best decisions for all parties involved.

Obviously, this does not mean we always agree.  The teachers I represent sometimes feel I don’t share their perspective.  My school district sometimes perceives my actions as being myopic from an exclusively teacher centered perspective.  My family sometimes forgets that even though I am physically at home, I am really at work.

My feeling is that we all need to exercise a bit of patience and grace with one another.  We might not all agree on every single detail, but we are all doing our best.  We are all trying to find the most effective way to do the impossible: provide a meaningful educational experience in the midst of a pandemic.  I urge everyone reading this to keep that in mind before jumping to the conclusion that someone is operating from a nefarious perspective.  We are all trying to find the best path possible through this moment.

So why should you even care what I think?  Who am I?  I am a husband.  I am a father of three (ages 6 years, 20 months and just 10 days old).  I am a teacher.  I am a labor leader.  I am a human being.  I don’t have the answers, but my decisions have consequences.  I am you.

Dennis Callahan is president of the South Huntington Teachers Association

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