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The Beacon

The Student Newspaper of MAST Academy, since 1991.
The Student News Site of MAST Academy

The Beacon

The Beacon

Teachers, our overlooked essential workers

By Hillary Simmons
Truck Editor

Teachers are underpaid and overworked, which is no secret. But this year has really revealed and shed light on the shortcomings of our school system. Our teachers have been asked to do the near impossible, and “unfair” does not begin to describe the position they have been forced into. I call upon the community to find some empathy within themselves and cut teachers some slack. 

Parents and students have what’s called “school choice,” which means that we can decide how we want our education delivered to us. But teachers do not have a choice in how they deliver their services. In May, teachers and students and parents were asked to fill out a survey about their modality preference. But, its vague wording raised alarms for many. 

Some teachers expressed that they felt they were essentially being asked whether or not they would come back to work. However, Miami Dade County Public Schools promised teachers six-feet-minimum socially distant classrooms, personal protective equipment,and reduced class sizes. So, teachers—cautiously, yet optimistically—answered the survey. But, Miami Dade County Public Schools did not keep their word. Instead of six feet, classrooms received social distancing of three feet and some classes with 40 students in them. Granted, said classes are mainly online sections, but it is still frustrating to any teacher to have such large class sizes.

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COVID-19 does not discriminate. It does not care that teachers are forced to choose between a steady paycheck with healthcare or risking exposure to a deadly pathogen. It does not care that teachers put their needs aside to help students. By being in school, physical teachers put themselves and those in their household at risk.

“It’s a catch-22 of sorts,” Biology teacher Ashli Wright explains. “I could take a leave of absence, but I would not be able to return to MAST until the following school year. And I would lose my health insurance, so if I get really sick from the virus, I could not afford to pay for the associated health care costs,” Wright continued.

The situation at the physical school is only further complicated by quarantines. Marine science teacher Christina Walker explains her frustration with the experience she has had with quarantines.

“I like being here in person. I’ve never liked traffic, but I like face to face teaching. What’s been hard is going back and forth [between physical teaching and quarantine]. I’ve been in quarantine about the same number of days I’ve been in the building and it’s hard…You just start to get a routine and you have to switch and switch. It’s tough to get into a pattern,” Walker says.

And because many teachers are teaching from home, the physical school building is understaffed. 80 percent of our MAST teachers reported wanting to remain at home while that same number of students wanted to return to the physical building. This is not hard math. While teaching their physical students, teachers may be monitoring students in multiple other classrooms. Our teachers are being grinded to the bone, especially at MAST, where our teachers wear many hats.

MAST teachers are go-getters. They volunteer to go above and beyond the bare minimum of clocking in and clocking out. Chances are that most, if not all, MAST students have at least one teacher that is a club sponsor. With all of these extra things they do, teachers are still asked to do the work of multiple people. They do get some compensation for teaching seven periods, but it is far from enough. 

“We are NOT compensated for watching other/additional students, we are not reimbursed for purchasing our own PPE and supplies… We are not reimbursed for working before or after school and some teachers on the weekends. We are not compensated based on the number of students we teach,” Wright explained.

Teachers are having these poor experiences partly due to Florida’s state government’s failure to respond appropriately to the pandemic, specifically Governor Ron DeSantis’. While DeSantis kicked off 2020 by proposing an increase in teacher pay, things completely changed when the pandemic hit. Instead of this year being the “Year of the Teacher,” as DeSantis claimed, it has become the exact opposite. Maritime Literature and History teacher Mayling Ganuza expressed her disappointment with what has become a dreadful reality.

“[DeSantis] threatened to withhold funding from schools if they did not open physically, disregarding public health. In other schools, teachers are forced to work in person, even if they do not feel safe. I have also spoken to teachers working in other districts that are overburdened teaching hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of students in multiple formats. The demands are extraordinary and, in an ironic twist of fate, this has become the “Year of Exploiting the Teacher.” Consequently, many have left or dream of leaving the profession,” Ganuza explained. 

People forget that teachers are people too. They have families and people who care about them just like students do. Why do we not have empathy for teachers, the pillars of our society? Without teachers, no one would be becoming the doctors and lawyers and engineers that we are. If teachers stopped teaching, the world would come to a halt. So, I challenge you: when you think of essential workers, think not only of our medical professionals and first responders, but also of our teachers. Teachers help set the stage for our new generation and they should be guaranteed the same rights and protections our students are.

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Teachers, our overlooked essential workers