Harder than Surviving Cancer, My First Year Teaching Virtually

By Farrah Samuels, Philadelphia Healthcare Rights Committee

If anyone had told me that teaching online as a first year teacher during a pandemic would be harder than surviving a rare form of stage IV cancer, I would’ve laughed them right outta’ town! As a teacher, I never thought of myself as an “essential worker” until the start of this school year. Now, teachers are expected to work no matter what, without hazard pay nor accolades, and we get blamed for everything!

If teachers don’t teach, there’s no future, and we just can’t afford to stop making that investment. That in itself is a crisis and a public health emergency- a generation of youth with no voice nor the know-how to wield the power of their words. Thankfully, I haven’t had to work in dangerous conditions, yet, though it took the Philadelphia School District (SDP) a minute to get its act together. This was only because of SDP meetings with community leaders, advocates, teachers, and families that lasted into the wee hours of the night with almost 100% advocating for virtual learning . Many teachers are struggling, however; we are busting our asses to teach your children well, and our spirits are dying and crushed everyday! We are breaking down and crying as we look at each other on screens, becoming “Zoombies,” and try to maintain some sense of community.

In the small ways I’m able, I continue to advocate for PPF-PA, COVID-19 PPE and the health care we all need and deserve, while I am spending seventeen hours daily lesson planning and trying to maintain my sanity. In my spare time, I barely hold together a consulting practice, recently focused on helping homeless shelters in Philadelphia apply for COVID-19 funding that they desperately need to help our most vulnerable “street citizens.” But I am lucky. I haven’t had to get a COVID-19 test yet, and have been able to stay relatively comfortable in my homemade kitchen office/ makeshift classroom. My “estranged” husband (who’s currently staying with me due to the pandemic), however, has been in and out of the hospital and recently diagnosed with pneumonia. He has had repeated COVID-19 tests, trying to figure out what ailed him. I visited him several nights at Jefferson Hospital in dire fear every time I walked into the hospital doors, masked and armed with prayers. Hospitals are breeding grounds, but what do you do when you love someone and you don’t want to leave them to face the horrors of an illness alone?

As much as I love, care and would die for my PPF-PA comrades, out of respect for the work, I decided to take a semi-sabbatical from my coordination duties. I tried to hold it together, but I have no spare time as a first-year teacher, trying to connect to our kids through “ Hollywood Squares” on screen, with increasing demands from administrators who say they “get it” and talk about “grace,” and self-care like they are hills to die on, but then don’t actually offer any. How do I remain committed, competent, caring, and connected when I am burnt out and have no time for the beloved community that has helped to keep me going in these last five years of my life? I’ll be back in quiet seasons, in the summer, when the weather is nice, the sun is shining, my little feeble garden is growing, and school is out. But even from the periphery, I’m still as committed as ever to fight for the world we all deserve to live in, where healthcare is a human right.

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