By IYWP Intern April Bannister
Dear Blog Readers,
When I learned about the launch of the Interview-an-Educator Project, I knew immediately I wanted to be one of the interns assigned to cover it. Over the course of my education, my teachers have been (and continue to be) some of the most influential people in my life, and I jumped at the chance to become more involved with educators in Iowa. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how students are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially after I was sent back to the U.S. from my study abroad program last spring, but I realized I didn’t have much knowledge on teachers’ perspectives—and I don’t think many others do, either. As much as teachers themselves are essential, it is also essential that we understand their experiences working as the unsung heroes of the pandemic. From the beginning, I expected to be impressed by teachers’ dedication and efforts to create normalcy for students in the least normal of circumstances. However, I never expected the depth of sacrifice teachers have made, the extent of the struggle teachers have endured. After three interviews with educators in and around Iowa City, I remain impressed, but feel even more overwhelmed by the immense burden we’ve placed on teachers to uphold their students’ livelihoods, all too often at the cost of their own.
In our interview with Sophie Taft, she explained that after spending months in almost total isolation, “I found out I was going back to school, and I was like, ‘Well, I’m gonna get [COVID] at school anyway, so I guess I’ll go to Walgreens, buy candy corn for school.’” Resigned to illness after being careful to protect herself for so long, even Taft’s first trip out was an errand for her students. Similarly, a Practicum student at the University of Iowa expressed the same acceptance of becoming ill, saying a full-day schedule “helped me resign myself to the fact that I might get sick, and that’s okay.” She added that she wasn’t as concerned for herself as she was for her asthmatic fiancé, so working in an environment like a school, she had to be especially cautious: “I don’t even bring a water bottle in [to school] to tempt myself. I leave my mask on the entire time because I don’t want to risk it.” The Practicum student spoke so casually, as if the inability to safely drink water was a normal part of her job—I suppose it has become normal to her, but it was shocking to hear her mention such a miserable circumstance with ease. It seemed she didn’t even realize that her job shouldn’t require such sacrifices.
Given everything they’ve done for me, every bit of friendship and support and knowledge they’ve offered without question, I think I’ve always known teachers are incredibly selfless people. I’m not sure if I’ve made lasting impacts on my teachers, but I’m certain they’ve made impacts on me; I’m reminded every day that teachers become teachers for their students, not themselves. Working tirelessly through the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers’ sacrifice has become more apparent to me than ever. It’s beyond admirable, but it’s not heartwarming. On the contrary, listening to teachers share their experiences of the last few months has been heartbreaking. No matter how selfless they may be, teachers should not be conditioned to risk their own safety for the sake of students. It’s a horrible injustice among too many others that teachers face, a terrifying reality that few others seem to recognize. I can’t applaud the system that creates such a challenge. But teachers have risen to the challenge regardless, and for it, I will applaud them as loudly as I can.