Down the street from my Rio Rancho home is a spacious community park that my family has not visited in weeks due to COVID-19. Yet, when we go for evening walks to get my young daughters out of the house, the park is full of life – but not full of masks or social distancing. This keeps me up at night, for the doors to our schools need to reopen, and when they do, many of my teacher friends and colleagues will be waiting behind them with smiling faces, no matter the worry that resides in their hearts and minds.
As I continue my duties as New Mexico Teacher of the Year, I will not be back in the classroom until January. However, this doesn’t limit my concerns as a teacher or parent. Many teachers share similar fears. As the moderator of the recent educator town hall held by the New Mexico Public Education Department, I read thousands of comments from teachers across the state who have serious concerns about safety. Yet, educators also long to be back in the classroom, cultivating the teacher-student bonds that are so essential for learning. While balancing the many sides of this story weighs heavily, there is no substitute for in-person connection. Still, we should not put lives at risk. So I ask you, our New Mexico families, to do all you can to safeguard our schools so that teachers can welcome students back with the confidence that all are truly safe.
While texting a teacher friend last week, she revealed that she has been ill with stomach issues and canker sores and attributes it to her worry of returning to school. My social media feeds show teachers talking about increasing their life insurance and seeking out help with living wills, all while our numbers surge toward 17,000 cases and 600 deaths. These numbers may be lower than other states, but teachers and families are watching with concern.
Children cannot get the best education if their teacher gets sick, which could leave that teacher out for weeks or even months. Substitute teachers already are hard to come by, and our current situation makes it more difficult. Education does not move forward without educators.