Saturday, February 26, 2022

The Opposite of Appreciation

The Howard County Schools calendar tells me that Monday, February 28th is the start of Employee Appreciation Week. News from the Board of Education meeting last week tells me that Tuesday, March 1st, masks to help prevent the spread of COVID will become optional in our schools.

Well, dang. What a way to celebrate.

From a Howard County Schools Facebook post in 2019:

We're celebrating Employee Appreciation Week! A big thank you to the more than 8,300 HCPSS staff members who are part of our amazing HCPSS family, for your unwavering dedication to students and schools, and for all you do each and every day.

A recent survey by HCEA found that teachers strongly favored (forty-five per cent)  that “universal indoor masking should continue through the end of the school year, even if transmission rates decline,” followed by twenty nine per cent who believed that masking should be present “until the County's positivity rate has fallen below the CDC "Low Transmission" levels (below 5% positivity) AND at least 80 percent of the students and school staff of a school facility are fully vaccinated.” Only twenty two per cent believed “indoor masking should be discontinued effective immediately.”

Or, if you prefer a graphic representation:

I’m wondering how appreciated our school employees feel right now. That sentiment about “unwavering dedication” is sorely tested when it doesn’t go both ways.

Almost exactly a year ago I wrote the following piece in response to employees being sent back into school buildings before they all were able to be fully vaccinated. 

Education is based on uniquely human relationships between teachers and students. It cannot thrive in an environment where the very humanity of teachers is devalued and even under attack. 

Happy School Employee Appreciation Week, everyone.

Lessons Unlearned, February 24, 2021 

I have started and deleted this post about five times this morning. I hear the sounds of my husband getting ready to leave the house. It is not a happy day. 

Our community has broken faith with its teachers. We are sending them into schools which are not adequately prepared, we are making them walk into situations where disease can be spread without being fully vaccinated, and we haven’t been able to hire the required number of support staff to make any sort of reasonable plan viable.

None of this is safe. Asking teachers to risk their lives and their families’ lives when they are receiving so little support is unacceptable. 

Yet clearly our community is full of those who think nothing of that. They are fine with inflicting long-term damage as long as they get their short-term benefits.

There is a cost to breaking faith with people. My biggest fear right now is losing them to illness. But we will also lose the good people who will leave a system that has betrayed them. We are already losing them. And I suspect more will follow.

Teachers are not widgets. You cannot just pop in a new one when the old one breaks. Teaching is an art, a science, a gift. It takes specialized training, mentoring, valuable experience, and love. If we make decisions that discount this our schools will pay the price for a long time to come. 

Education is based on uniquely human relationships between teachers and students. It cannot thrive in an environment where the very humanity of teachers is devalued and even under attack. 

Folk tales from around the world tell of people who, having received an exceptional gift, destroy it and their own lives through their own selfishness. Think of the goose that laid the golden eggs or the man and the magic fish.  How easy it is for the characters in these stories to come face to face with an extraordinary blessing and be dissatisfied. How quickly their initial pleasure turns into demands for more.

The prevalence of stories like this in so many cultures should tell us something. If they are meant to educate us or serve as a warning I fear we have not been paying attention. You cannot smash the thing you want to have and still make use of its treasures.

I would think that’s a lesson most of us learned in school, but, apparently not.

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