Dear Virus, Here's to Teachers!


Teacher's car, economical and held together with duct tape

I’m a teacher. I teach stuff like when to use a semicolon, how and why it’s important to read, and different ways we can use voices to enact positive change. I cover effective communication in the classroom, how to say what we want to say without fuzzing up the meaning, and who “we” are when we say we (beware the slippery pronoun!).

Virus, I know you’re still busy right now, second wave and all, but do you have a few minutes? I have some things I want to get off my chest. Our jobs are really different, yours and mine. You spread fear and illness, and I work with kids in a school. Still, we can talk, right? I can be frank with you?

A lot of us are pinching pennies right now. I’m not going to speak for all teachers, but most of us want to get back to work. Paying bills is important, and having enough money to eat is a good thing too. When I decided to become a teacher, I wasn’t self-deluded enough to think I would become a gazillionaire because that’s not the reason any of us get into the profession. Teaching is a calling, yes, but it’s a calling that affords a paycheck. That said, we certainly don’t prance out of grad school and head straight to the Mercedes dealership. Many of us scrape by month to month and drive rust-buckets to work, hoopties held together with hope and a lot of duct tape. (See picture of mine.)

Most teachers have outrageous student loans to manage and a lot of classroom supplies to purchase out of pocket. No, Virus, we don’t have to do that, but we want to. You know why? We don’t get money from our schools to decorate, but we want a pleasant learning environment for the young people in our care. We make that choice. We understand that students would rather be sleeping in at home, playing video games, or making Tik Tok videos. I wouldn’t mind more time with my sheets either! With that competition, any time spent in the classroom should be interesting and (dare I say) fun.

I know what you’re thinking, Virus: Teachers get summers “off,” but not really. We develop new curricula to keep students engaged. We go to trainings about the newest, new things in education. And we dream up creative ways for students to learn stuff. I mean, I know why the caged bird sings, but how do I get students to turn the pages in a book so they can know too?

I’m not going to complain because for better and worse, teaching is the profession I chose. I could have been a trapeze artist in a traveling show or a mobile yak groomer in the Himalayas, but a woman’s got to know her limitations. My upper body strength isn’t great, and I’m somewhat allergic to cold weather. So, here we are.


Believe me, there are challenges when it comes to teaching--long hours and a lack of Benjamins among them. But I also know that nothing makes me happier as a teacher than to see students excited about learning, to watch their eyes light up, and to know I’m helping to prepare productive and caring citizens. And I know this too, Virus: If it were to happen (and I hope it never does), I would stand in front of a bullet for a student. Teachers have, and I would too.

So you see, Virus, teaching is a special kind of socially accepted crazy: long hours, low pay, little recognition, and the lack of bulletproofing. We know all this and consent to it anyway, but you’re upping the ante, and I already explained that we’re on a tight budget. We have pencils to buy and lined paper and tape and colorful posters and…

The president wants schools to open. I get that. I’m sure Barron is getting under foot, not to mention Don Junior. Parents want their kids in school, learning stuff. I get that too. But (and it’s a big butt after all these pandemic snacks), we need to reopen schools in a smart and safe way. We need a plan, Virus, and a lot of schools don’t have that yet. Even educators are struggling with your viral learning curve. Teachers want kids to learn the ABCs and the 123s, but not at the expense of human lives.

There are too many unanswered questions about COVID-19, about teaching during a pandemic, about sanitation and ventilation and vaccination, and about keeping a vulnerable population (young adults) healthy and safe. There are a lot of questions, and we didn’t get much time to study for this kind of life or death test. So I’m asking, Virus, if you’d give us a bit more time. Yes, I’m asking for an extension on this reopening schools project. I could provide a doctor’s note if you need one. I think Dr. Fauci would oblige.

In the meantime, I’ve updated my will. Morbid, right? Hey! Don’t you dare roll your eyes at me, Virus. Look at me when I speak to you. I’ve got my teacher’s voice on right now, and I’m giving you “the look.” Maybe this seems overly dramatic to you, but a lot of people have already died from COVID-19, and practically speaking, I need to be prepared. I’m old enough to be worried, and I have an autoimmune disease that puts me at a higher risk of infection. Oh, and pretty soon I’ll be surrounded by young people who, as everyone knows, spread germs like glitter at a crafting convention.

You didn’t ask to read this, but I’m assigning something anyway. I’ll give you 25 extra credit points and a gold star if you get to the end. [Note to self: add gold star stickers to the shopping list]. Here it is:

ASSIGNMENT: Read and respond to this preemptive obituary, my “just in case” report.

[Begin]

Piper Selden, undisclosed age, passed away on [insert date here] due to complications arising from COVID-19 and a pre-existing condition of lupus. She died alone, isolated from a family who meant the world to her.

Piper self-quarantined after contracting the virus at her job as a teacher. During the State of Hawaii reopening of schools, she was exposed to approximately 360 unique and rotating students every two weeks. Piper’s dying request was not to spread the virus to her family, especially her immuno-compromised daughter, a nine-year survivor of childhood cancer.

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Piper moved to Hawaii in 2003, where she graduated with advanced degrees in English composition and creative writing. She wrote, published, and taught at both the college and K-12 levels. Piper was an advocate for special needs and at-risk students, and served her community until her untimely death. Students remember her upbeat personality. “Leave a little sparkle wherever you go,” she would say. “Life is short. Wear the glitter.”

Piper was surrounded by books and stacks of writing journals, containing stories that will never be published. “I had so much writing I wanted to do,” Piper told her husband. She requested to be buried with paper and her favorite mechanical pencil, just in case there’s publishing on the other side.

Hailing from a long line of teachers, Piper asked that her own children not follow in her footsteps. “There’s no longer respect for the job we do,” she told her son. “Please find a profession that will pay your bills and not break your heart.”

Piper is survived by her adoring husband of 31 years, Todd, son Theo, daughter Lauren, cat (Luna), mother Ann (retired substitute teacher), sister Laurel (math teacher, Washington State), and sister Kim (science teacher, Oregon State).

A Virtual Celebration of Life gathering and Zoom bonfire will be held at the next full moon. Donations to HSTA teacher’s union has been requested by the family in lieu of flowers.

-------


Extra Credit Assignment

Points: 25,extra credit

Due date: Today

Rubric:

See? I’m a soft grader, Virus. You get points even if you don’t really care about me or anyone else. You get points even if you don’t master affairs of the heart. Ask any of my students, it pains me physically to fail people. I want you to be successful, just not at killing people.

Assignment: Read and respond to my preemptive obituary, the “just in case” report.

Reflective questions: You may use these questions as a springboard. Type up and share a short response or Think-Pair-Share with a friend and report back to the class.

  1. What is the purpose/aim of this text?

  2. What claims (considerations) are made?

  3. What are the implications if we take these claims seriously?

  4. What assumptions, if any, are made? Assumptions might include topic importance, possibilities, what might be influenced, positive/negative impacts, etc.

  5. Are generalizations made? If so, do these seem reasonable?

  6. What is the overall tone of this piece?

  7. What rhetorical devices does the author use to make her claims? Logos (logical appeal); Pathos (emotional appeal); Ethos (ethical appeal)

  8. How does my personal knowledge, experience, and/or bias affect the reading of this text?

  9. Using the text as a guide, predict what happens next.

Well, Virus? What happens next? Would you like to share out loud with the class? A lot of lives are on the line.


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