February 8, 2021 submitted by Brian DeMarco, Fourth Grade Teacher at East Elementary School
As a town employee, working within the school system, it is not always my place to be vocal. I do my job, keep my head down, and I am compensated for my services. I leave conflict to be parsed up by others, unless it directly affects my classroom. There has been some recent expression online, bashing teachers, administration, and our school leaders that is having a negative impact within this town. There is always the hope that someone else will say something, however, as the recent comments hit onto something I know, I feel compelled to speak.
Hingham is an incredible community. That is not said as a platitude but as a heartfelt recognition of a town that has embraced me. Hingham has welcomed me as an educator and I give thanks daily for my position. Though I am not from Hingham I feel at home here. I also know firsthand of the overwhelming fostering for a teacher that this town can exhibit. Not too long ago my family was pummeled with one bit of devastating news after another-cancer, hospitalizations, facial surgeries, and a child battling depression. Outpourings of support, toward a simple classroom teacher, from this unified community, was beyond what could reasonably be expected. Goodness, kindness, and humanity came to me from all directions. My family was held up by this community, and now it pains me to see good people tearing other good people down.
We often choose to settle in towns, or be a part of a certain district within a town, largely based on the schooling. Enormous value is placed on the education our children receive. If the product diminishes in its quality we have questions that demand answers. I know many within Hingham believe they are experiencing such a time. I am sorry for any negative impact this school year has brought upon you. As a parent of four school-aged children, the hardships that you all may face, are also constantly on my mind. Worries about possible gaps developing in education from one year to the next; social events such as proms passing by; scholarship opportunities becoming reduced, and graduation ceremonies being held over Zoom fill the day. The need for students to have more learning inside the classroom, or more connection to their teachers and classmates online, is ever-present in my thoughts. As a parent I am aware of the effects of a spouse having to reduce their work schedule to cover the hours the children are home when they would traditionally be in school. I know the frustration that is voiced in an, “I don’t know how to do this...it’s not my job to teach.” As a parent of high functioning children I know what it is like to believe those children will be able to navigate their learning on their own, but uncertain that this is true. Having an autistic child, and another non-verbal child with severe special needs, I know what it is like to weep in the dark in the late hours with your partner, believing the school’s SPED team should be doing much more. I know these things because I live them along with you. So, too, do all the educators in Hingham. We hear you.
The delivery method of instruction that was cobbled together in the spring left many families discouraged. There has not been a time in my teaching career when we have worked harder to ensure your children are learning, and are emotionally secure. My colleagues and I are unrelenting with our planning. Searching for creative ways to deliver rigorous educational instruction in four different cohorts. Hingham educators email, text, and phone each other with novel ideas to help with items such as planning how to deliver a hands-on science lesson to children in front of us, children at home on Zoom, and to those children who are always fully remote-their access to materials hampered. As educators we have trained ourselves on new technology platforms so that we can deliver the most engaging product to your children, given the constraints we face. We work long hours to include weekends to ensure the digital lessons we have created from whole cloth allow our achievement of educational goals and meet the state standards. The change in learning structure has demanded much from educators. There are always papers to grade, projects to design, and lessons to streamline. Our lives have been disrupted too. Sleep for me comes after midnight each day, waking up shortly after 5:00 AM most mornings because my mind cannot rest. Worry about the day ahead awakens me most mornings. Which Cohort is in today? Are my lessons for in-class, remote, and Zoom learning ready to implement? Will the child, the one fearful of germs, be alright today? What can I do to help them feel comfortable? All educators in Hingham are experiencing these trials now, but we continue on because we love working with your children and are passionate about our vocation.
I am blessed beyond reason to work with perhaps the greatest team of teachers possible but we truly are no different than any other teacher set in the district. We are passionate about the work we do. We worry over assessments, collecting enough data, collecting too much data, and the general social emotional health of the children in front of us. As teachers we are devastated that the kids cannot interact in the same ways that they have been for years prior. Our hearts are saddened each time we look across our school playground and see children standing off by themself because of genuine fear that they may catch Covid. Students have lost field trips, friendships, and innumerable opportunities. Losses continue to be experienced but we mitigate them as best we can. Last spring, when we all believed leaving school would be a temporary solution, the first thought on all of our minds as educators was when can we have the kids back in front of us. That has not changed. Our goal is the same as yours. To safely have the kids in class with us and be a truly unified community. To achieve that goal parents must understand our challenges and efforts and respond positively.
Frustration, finger-pointing, and shutting down other voices are deleterious to our on-going success as a school community. The posting of a teacher’s personal classroom agenda online, to have others tear it apart is outside of the realm of constructive engagement. Routinely posting negative comments online without first contacting the teacher regarding your concerns is injurious to our mutual goal. We understand your frustrations but vilifying teachers instead of a system beyond our control does not move us closer. There are people assiduously working to right our district’s ship and we need to recognize the difficult spot we and they are in at this moment.
Our Superintendent, Dr. Austin, has an unenviable position of having to navigate through the desire of rightfully concerned parents, a union, public health advisories, educational metrics, and a quickly shifting novel virus. Diligently working in a time like no other, his staff presses on. Parental empathy and support are needed. HEA president, June Gustafson, had the difficult task earlier this year of expressing the voice of many. Her words were hyperbolic to some, I publicly wrote to her stating that I believed they were, but they represented the anxieties of many at that time. June’s passionate address expressed the true fears individuals had of being in close daily interaction with students and staff, while most in Massachusetts were still working from home. June’s words spoke for those of us who worry about our own health or that of a compromised family member. Her words never intended to suggest that those concerned teachers did not or do not want to teach. Words were chosen during an uncertain time to reflect a particular moment, yet are publicly tossed back as if she spoke those words today. Dr. Austin and June Gustafson are humans, professionals, trying to implement a thoughtful plan in a dangerous time. This plan must account for the known factors during a given period and assume certain future events that are unknown. The changing environment then requires a plan change. Educators just want a safe environment. You may believe that it is safe for children and educators to return right now but hopefully you have compassion enough to understand our concerns.
The trickle down of compassion should also be applied to numerous others within our district. The administration teams, for example, assume a tremendous burden, as they work with the staff to ensure each child is being engaged, kept safe, and that we as educators are meeting the educational standards...all during an ongoing pandemic. Each day they uplift the staff, offer support, and allow us educators to explore new avenues, that are much different than ever before, to engage the learners. Behind the scenes are countless unsung professionals from the front office personnel, to the tireless custodians, and our overtaxed nursing staff, all now having duties that could not previously have been imagined. Since last spring much has changed. The resiliency and thoughtfulness toward each other should not be among what is lost.
As teachers we are not curing cancer, preventing heart disease, or creating a vaccine for the world, but we are sacrificing much. This is often at the expense of our own families, to ensure your children are being served. We never miss the opportunity to greet a child in the hallway, to make them feel as if they are solely important, or to find a path to their learning style. We educate because it is the career we have chosen, and each one of your children is dearly important to us. My colleagues, and I, are tremendously indebted to be employed during a time when so many are not. We do not take for granted the position we have been afforded and entrusted to deliver. Teachers within this district pour every ounce of passion into their job, the education of your children. We value them, and we truly value your support. We know the demands this learning structure has placed on you. We know 504 and IEP parents, and those with children on the learning cusp, are devastated and emotionally unraveling as we get deeper into the school year. We know the anxiety that sets in when one realizes their child has numerous outstanding assignments. We understand when you feel at your wits end. We understand and feel the same.
I am not a significant part in this large system, but I am a part that works to be the best that I can be each day. Parents, school board members, educators, and school staff are all working at their best. It’s what your children deserve. I have had the incredible pleasure of getting to know many families within this community, most through my class, and many from outside of my classroom. I have developed relationships with families that have extended well past the time their child has left the elementary school. If you know me, you know my heart. I understand your argument and logic from both sides of the field. I mean no disrespect to either group. I am not making a public case for any reason other than to state an experienced educator’s passionate belief. I am also making the case to restore a beautiful community’s sense of unity. Civility, compassion, reason, love for your neighbors, and respect toward others should lead the day. Discourse is tremendously important, but civility is more so.
Brian DeMarco is a fourth grade teacher at East Elementary School in Hingham.