What happens when teachers are screaming in siloes?

I have written and rewritten this letter in my mind during the countless nights that I have lost sleep over trying to figure out a way to keep our community safe from the spread and health risks of COVID-19 as well as a way to provide our students with an exemplary education.

Add on the tone and tenure of some of the most recent and vocal stakeholders, I find myself writing this letter one last time with a broken heart and an incredibly wounded spirit. I write this on behalf of the association, but I’m quite confident that many individual teachers across the district would find themselves echoing the same concerns and equal, if not greater heartache.

As we listen to public comments at the Board of Ed meetings and see those comments restated again in the paper and on parent Facebook groups, the DEA feels the need to share our memories of a very different remote teaching and learning experience. When schools closed back in March, we worked quickly and diligently to learn new technology, write new curriculums, and implement instruction. While other district associations were pushing back against live instruction, the DEA encouraged it.

A large majority of the teachers were “live” with students on a daily basis. Many secondary teachers taught full classes, special education teachers gave remote sessions, and many elementary teachers held daily morning meetings. Teachers across the district held live office hours and were available via e-mail and phone call on a regular basis. Our working hours went from the length of a school day, to extending well into the evening. We invited you “into” our homes where you met our spouses, kids, and pets.

Teachers found ways to create virtual field days, class rewards, and “extra recess.” At the end of the year, teachers took their own personal time to drive around to houses and give out T-shirts and posters to Darien High School seniors, give out end-of-the year gifts to students in their classes, throw step-up parades at all levels, and even provide extraordinary graduation ceremonies for fifth, eighth, and twelfth graders.

Do the teachers feel that this remote learning time was ideal teaching? No. Were there moments of lost academic instruction? Yes. Would the teachers prefer to have been in a typical year doing typical teaching? Absolutely.

But through this time we gathered together as a community. Students, teachers, and parents learned new and impressive skills. We persisted through this time because we supported each other, showed patience, kindness, empathy, and compassion. Our community stayed safe, and our teaching community was proud of our ability to engage learners in new and creative ways. It’s funny to consider how long ago June 2020 feels right now.

Three months ago we were celebrating, we felt supported, and we felt heard. Fast forward to September and you find the teachers in a much different situation. We no longer feel celebrated. We feel judged, we feel ignored, we feel hurt. We feel that the health and safety of our colleagues and our students are being put in jeopardy in a haste to put all kids back in the building for instruction. We feel that stakeholders have forgotten our efforts and have belittled our work, intentions, commitment, and professionalism.

For an entire summer we have been screaming at the top of our lungs to what seem like deaf ears for two things: safety and an ability to provide instruction in a way that we feel is meaningful. At every Board of Education meeting we are told we are valued, yet we hear hurtful comments, judgmental questions, and top down protocols.

The district and teachers were literally dismissed by parents after less than a full week’s worth of instruction with little words of support towards the teachers and the countless hours we have spent preparing for this school year in a model that we don’t entirely support and have begged to change.

While the cries of the teachers have been ignored, it seems the cries of a different group of stakeholders have been received, because DPS is moving forward with its plan to bring every student back into the buildings for a full reentry on Sept. 29. This is unlike most districts in Fairfield county. The district heading back to a full-in model leads the teachers to discern one thing: the Board of Education, superintendent, and a very vocal group of parents have settled on acceptable loss.

Why loss? You may wonder. Our kids will be in the buildings, so they will be learning more. They won’t be losing anything.

I disagree. If we go back into these buildings in less than two weeks, the teachers would like you to know the following information. There are at least two schools where students will be in classrooms of up to 25 students. Students at the middle school and high school and in some elementary school classrooms will not be sitting three feet apart.

Many will not be able to sit six feet apart and eat unmasked. Fourteen hundred students at the high school will not be able to walk the halls socially distanced. We may be wearing masks and washing our hands, but with all-in conditions, there will be greater risk of spreading COVID-19.

I don’t believe any loss is acceptable, but here is what you may lose if we go back on Sept. 29. As you read my list, I’d like for you to consider what loss you might think is too much of a risk. You may lose teachers to other districts; there are quite a few across the county with openings and with stakeholders who are being kinder to teachers. You may lose teachers and students to repeated absences and not enough substitutes available to cover. You may lose instructional time to teachers and students having to quarantine because they have been exposed to or have tested positive for the virus. You may literally lose a teacher, para, custodian, administrator, or campus monitor who has fallen ill and can’t recover from the virus.

I won’t proceed with other possible losses or consequences, because I don’t think I could withstand anything worse. The teachers want to be with all of our students in the buildings more than you know, but we don’t believe that this is the way.

I’ll end this letter with a cry that I hope is finally heard. The DEA is begging our parents, Board, and other stakeholders, first and foremost, for kindness, patience, empathy, and respectful behavior. This work is hard, and we don’t deserve the treatment that we have received from many across the town. Second, we’d like for you to care about safety and preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Please advocate for a safer reopening than all-in on Sept. 29, get tested if you have symptoms, be honest about quarantining, and encourage your family members to wear masks properly and respectfully. Finally, we’re asking for you to show us that we are valued by actions and not just empty words.

Protect, respect, and be thankful towards our entire teaching and learning community so that we may be able to avoid loss and bring our community back to a place where we all feel good and proud to live and work. Thank you for your consideration.

Joslyn DeLancey and the Darien Education Association