Young Life or Death: Public School Teachers’ Pandemic Plight

Since the arrival of Covid-19, teachers have been forced to choose between the wellbeing of their students and their own

Bonsu Thompson

--

Photo by kyo azuma on Unsplash

Michaella Dauphin has taught the 8th grade for 10 years. The privilege to nurture young clay into scholastic monuments has been her dream since childhood. Today, the East Flatbush Brooklyn native is on the brink of walking away from her dream job forever. Despite being only 33-years-old, she has been diagnosed with the autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis. The stress of being a teacher constantly rages on her body causing her joints to flare up excruciatingly and frequent. The physical pain is preceded by mental anguish. On most Sundays, Michaella is ballooned with anxiety. By Monday, she can barely walk up the three flights of stairs required to reach her classroom.

The responsibilities of an American public school teacher have always vacillated between heroism and masochism. There are times when that affinity can feel like an exercise in futility. City schools are egregiously undersupplied and their classrooms perpetually overcrowded. The students carry their trauma and household drama around like a knapsack and use school hours to unpack in the unruliest of ways. This was life for many teachers pre-pandemic. Since Covid-19 seized the planet two years ago, the job of an inner-city teacher has plummeted from arduous to utterly impossible. The precipitous decline explains why last year, at an alarming volume, educators across the country quit the classroom in pursuit of other professional routes. The exodus has been dubbed “The Great Resignation.” While an educator’s fatigue is normally attributed to low morale and school funding, recently, many of these men and women’s decisions have been bleakly existential. “The current state of education is just a very toxic climate,” says Dauphin. “You’re telling me to come to work despite [my health condition] and I’m telling you that I can die.”

In 2015, Nadia Lopez was more than ready to walk away from her position as principal of the Motts Hall Bridges Academy, a middle school in Brownsville, one of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in Brooklyn. A year prior, Lopez was also diagnosed with an autoimmune illness. The…

--

--

Bonsu Thompson

Bonsu Thompson is a writer, producer, Brooklynite and 2019 Sundance Screenwriters Lab fellow.