Covid-19

A teacher’s open letter to Jacinda Ardern

An 'actual teacher*' penned this open letter to the Prime Minister about her deep worries over the move to allow children back into schools at Level 3.

I am horrified by the about-turn to allow young children back to school at Level 3.

I see comments from principals and representatives of schools - who, let’s face it, can be isolated in their offices at school or workplaces - but have you yet heard from an actual teacher in the classroom?

For a start: It was said moving to Level 3 means you can extend your bubble a small amount but still keep it small and exclusive. For everyone except teachers, it seems.

Here's the direct effect on me and my bubble: Dr Ashley Bloomfield said if you extend your bubble to include an elderly person and the bubble includes a child, then you should keep that child at home. As a teacher, with children coming to school, how does that then work for my mother, who is 70, has a heart condition and is on her own but I am supporting by taking groceries and picking up medications and so on at the moment? She is very lonely. It means she still can't have family in her bubble (my sister is a teacher too).

It also means my partner can't join his mother in her bubble (on her own at the moment) because he is exposed to me. It was said Level 3 would be allowing elderly people to extend their bubble because of concern about them being lonely. If we return to school, my mother and my partner's mother get left on their own

The second thing, which disgusts me, is you said that at least in schools it would be easy to contact trace everyone. Sorry, but I don't actually want to catch this virus and it sounds to me like you are willing to play Russian Roulette with my health to babysit, so parents can go back to work, or if they're struggling at home with their children, they can clearly send them in to school too.

Yes, many children didn't turn up to school before the lockdown but I think it will be a different story after being home for this long. You said schools are not allowed to tell parents to keep their children home even if they know the parents are not working. That is appalling.

I can't imagine how I am going to feel and how I will cope, let alone put on a smile and teach on the day we go back, when the rest of the country is under strict Level 3 protocols.

How am I supposed to cope with six-year olds when I am this stressed? They will see a very different teacher in front of them. I will not be giving them a cuddle when they are upset and crying (a daily occurrence). I will not be sitting at the same table as them to help them read. I will not be sitting beside them to help them sound out their words as they write. This will be mentally damaging to them. They should be at home where they can have close physical contact with people. Primary aged children cannot go through a whole day without this.

You said there would be really strict protocols for businesses to follow but  there was very little mention about protocols schools have to follow, only that contact tracing will be easy. WOW! When we go to school we are exposed to every child in our class bubble and then the next day everyone that their parents have been exposed to in their day at work. If they have a sibling in another class or at secondary school, myself and anyone in my class are now open to those bubbles, too. One of my parents works at an Early Childhood Centre so now my bubble is growing even bigger. Another parent works at another school so how big is my bubble now? It is enormous. The statement about contact tracing being easy makes it very clear that we are the ‘experiment’ in all of this – the ‘guinea pigs’.

Do you trust that Year 11, 12 and 13 students will stay home by themselves and not be tempted to sneak around to a friend’s house? I raised twin boys, now 25, and I can tell you, no way.

Clearly, no one making these decisions has ever worked in a school and none of them, including you, Prime Minister, can really care enough about us. I have worked so hard during my teaching career, with endless late nights, unmanageable workloads, no time and energy for a social life, keeping up with constant changes and living with constant stress.

So many times, I have almost quit because of the pressure but I have always hung in there through the really tough times. Not this time. I will not take part in your experiment. My partner (my bubble) lives with one kidney which causes him to also have high blood pressure. I love my students and want nothing more than to be back in the classroom with them but I am not ashamed to say that I love my partner and my mother more. They are my priority and I will not ‘pop’ my bubble so people can get back to making money. At the start of all this you said people’s lives came first. Clearly, there has been some change of mind when it comes to teachers.

If I were a nurse, I would put on my PPE and go to work knowing that I am saving lives. I feel I am being told to go into the confined space of a classroom with no protection and just cross my fingers. I am being told to risk my health, possibly my life, to babysit so people can get back to making money. Sorry, but that is not a good enough reason to risk my life and my partner's life. I will 100 percent quit my job if I feel like I am at risk and I will go and join my bubble with my mum. Babysitting versus my health, my partner’s health and my mum's well-being? No contest. I am more than happy to continue remote learning but I will not go into school under Level 3. I will resign.

Signed: A New Zealand teacher

*Newsroom has confirmed the author's employment and has agreed not to name her.

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