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Coronavirus finally proves that teachers are essential

Esther J. Cepeda on

CHICAGO -- After years of educators staging massive walkouts and lobbying school boards to improve their dismal working conditions, it finally took the coronavirus to succeed in proving that the humble teacher is essential to a functioning American economy.

Parents across the country are at their wit's end trying to balance work, running a household and educating their children. Many have come to the conclusion that it's all too much, and they have closed virtual school and e-learning for their kids, citing a lack of resources, time or mental energy during a global pandemic.

President Trump has nudged state governors to encourage schools to open up in order to start getting back to "normal" amid the reality that -- until parents have a safe place where children can spend the day -- there's no way they could return to full-time work and get the economy revving again.

Teachers find themselves at the center of a conversation that rarely includes their voices. But as an educator myself, I can tell you that it's weird finally being considered essential at a moment when some families are throwing in the towel on e-school while others are fretting that their lack of art supplies, computers or internet access will make their children fall even further behind.

Both of these outcomes are bad, but only one reduces education to childcare.

Most people understand that there is far more to the teacher-student bond than just safety, activities and a meal in the early afternoon. Still, the reality is that schools' daylong services provide a safe place for children to spend their time while parents work. And without that place, things will never return to "normal."

 

In fact, an estimated "32% of [the] workforce has someone in their household who is under 14. Thus, 50 million Americans must consider childcare obligations when returning to work," according to economic researchers on premarket.com, the blog of the Stigler Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

And while many families have a household with an adult who could watch children during the day, the researchers estimated that 11% of the workforce do not (or 17.5 million workers).

"The longer school closures persist into the recovery of the economy, the greater will be the burden faced by those workers with young children and no obvious childcare options," authors Jonathan Dingel, Christina Patterson and Joseph Vavra, wrote in the blog post. "Discussions of returning to work ought to include discussion of returning to school."

The American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second largest teacher's union, already has a plan for reopening schools safely. The plan includes maintaining social distancing guidelines in classrooms, enforcing smaller class sizes, splitting scheduling and staggering meal and bus times.

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