When schools closed at the beginning of the pandemic, teachers were praised for the measures they took to care for the health and well-being of their students. Here in the Hoosier state, that sentiment did not last.
Withholding the vaccine, altering school guidelines to decrease social distancing, reducing quarantine regulations, diminished contact tracing, and the prospect of reduced funding have been plaguing our educators all come into effect since the beginning of the year. Educators have written to Gov. Holcomb asking for an explanation, but are left without a response. Schools and their essential workers have been ignored. That is why we have co-founded Indiana Teachers Organizing for Action as a platform to unite educators, share collective experiences, and advocate for our profession. We must hear teacher voices.
Throughout this year, teachers have been tasked with continuously adapting our instructional models as we navigate surges in COVID-19 cases. As we talk with fellow educators throughout the state, many are teaching in classrooms with no social distancing, reporting classrooms of up to 30 students sitting only inches apart since August. Furthermore, throughout this pandemic teachers have been tasked with personally disinfecting their classrooms, and other duties that further increase risk of transmission (such as lunch duty, and standardized test proctoring). One teacher states that she spent “nearly $1,000 out of pocket for safety measures” inside her classroom.
We also have teachers with medical conditions that have been denied accommodations. Pregnant teachers, teachers with heart conditions and diabetes have had to make the choice between teaching in the classroom or taking extended leave without pay. One teacher reported to us that, “In January of this year, I was diagnosed with COVID-19. I went to the ER shortly after and was diagnosed with COVID pneumonia. My heart condition went southward and my treatments are still to this day no longer working. I was out of work for almost 2 months. Sick days came and went. I went unpaid for a length of time. Now my long-lasting effects are inhibiting my ability to teach at my best.”
Most recently, Gov. Holcomb and the Indiana State Department of Health have stated that teachers cannot be eligible for surplus vaccines on a wait list. One educator wrote to us saying, “This weekend I called 5-6 Walmart pharmacies in my area because I had heard they were putting teachers on wait lists to avoid wasting vaccines. I was informed by all of them that they had received notice earlier in the day that if they (Walmart) continued this practice they may not be allowed to serve as a vaccination center and would not receive additional doses.” Gov. Holcomb’s decision not only continues the trend of denying school staff priority vaccination (the only state in our region to do so) but shows that he would be willing to close vaccination sites for all Hoosiers to stop educators from receiving the vaccine.
Despite this, teachers have been warriors for our students. We have tirelessly addressed inequities in our classrooms and provided social-emotional services for those that we lovingly refer to as “our kids.” As one teacher poignantly states, “Not only am I shouldering the weight of being a good teacher and trying to solve equity gaps in learning and resources, but I am also shouldering student trauma. Family members dying due to COVID, family and friends dying due to gun violence, all while we are pushing our students forward as if there is no global pandemic raging. All this while I am trying to process my own feelings surrounding COVID-19, death, and the trauma caused by the teaching profession. COVID-19 has underscored the lack of value, professionalism, and support we truly have for educators across the country. In the public eye we are lazy, not doing enough, and really just glorified babysitters.”
To top it off, we are grappling with the prospect of cut funding. House Bill 1001 would divert funding from public to private schools. House Bill 1005 would expand private school vouchers and redirect money that could be used to address inequitable education for our most vulnerable students. Indiana teachers are the lowest paid teachers of all states in our region, and we are 41st in the nation in per-pupil funding. This is not the time for legislation to divert funds from public education.
Teachers are demoralized, burnt out, overwhelmed, and exhausted. As one teacher wrote, “I am amazed at how quickly teachers went from “heroes” to enemies. Gov. Holcomb has time and time again ignored us and neglected us. You can’t tell us that we are “essential” and “heroes” but then constantly cut our funding and make sure that we are literally risking our lives “for the children.” You don’t care about the children, and you despise teachers. Stop putting money and politics before the future of Indiana.” Unfortunately, the sentiments of this teacher echo thousands.
We are asking for you to
● Please contact your legislators and let them know you support proper funding for education.
● Please contact the governor’s office and the Indiana State Department of Health and advocate for vaccines for school personnel.
● Please vocalize your support for your child’s teachers. It helps us more than you could ever imagine.
Hoosier schools and Hoosier teachers need Hoosier support.