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Brittany Cufaude

Brittany Cufaude

For Teachers and Educators Impacted by School Closures and Covid-19

I am a teacher and my heart and mind will always live in the classroom. I am also very quiet during crisis. I always have been. I think this is because I sit back, I reflect, I empathize, and I plan for action. These past few weeks have been bewildering. They have also felt a little like deja vu.

I was pregnant with my son during the H1N1 outbreak, very pregnant. If you remember that time, pregnant mothers were the group at the highest risk. I remember that people in the larger community and folks on social media said it was all media hype. I saw a very different story within my own classroom. First, as teachers, we ride the wave of all the viruses, and yet I have never seen children so ill. Ever. They were dropping like flies. In October of 2009 (eight-months pregnant), tears rolled down my cheeks as my principal read the number of the students who tested positive for H1N1, several of whom were hospitalized. She read the numbers of the students on each teacher’s roster, as of course using names would break HIPPA laws. My memory is that there were around 19 total students on this list. 13 of them were on my roster. The virus was alive and spreading in my classroom. By this time, around 50 pregnant women had died from complications of H1N1, mostly from pneumonia. The tears streamed from fear and from total paralysis. What does a teacher and also a soon-to-be mother do? My emerging mama bear wanted to stand up and walk right out. My responsibility was to myself, my unborn child, and my husband. Then came the tidal wave of shame, which was fueled by the notion that a protective, herd mentality is hysterical. I am being hysterical. I was straddled between my responsibility to myself and my responsibility to my students first and then my colleagues, my principal, and my district.

As a teacher, my students and my colleagues were also my family. I felt this deeply. I will always have a deep connection with anyone devoted to children and classrooms. For this reason, my heart has been with teachers, coaches, leaders, and anyone connected to schools. I feel that during these past few weeks we are collectively experiencing a profound sense of fear, confusion, and conflict. That is neither good for our students nor is it good for our emotional wellbeing.

If you have ever attended my presentations, you have probably heard me say teachers are first responders. We open our doors each morning to everything in our communities. No one who has not welcomed swells of children into their room each day could ever imagine what this means to our practice. To our hearts. All the traumas, all the joys, they all flood our rooms through our children. And for district and site leaders, my heart goes out to you as well. The complexity of your responsibilities is massive. For this reason, I am sending endless love and compassion to all educators whether you are in a school or district that has closed or you are returning to schools that remain open. This is a scary time wrought with discord, fear, and immense polarization. Wherever you are in this, please know you are not alone.

One inspiration to write this came after I watched a harrowing video from Italy. It is iPhone footage of a quarantined neighborhood in Sienna. One night recently, they opened their windows and began singing together. Isolated for protection, sealed by culture and song. More neighborhoods have joined in this beautiful act of solidarity. Though we cannot open our windows and sing together, we can remain arm-and-arm through this in spirit and through kind words.

The other reason I was compelled to share these words is because in 2009 I was a very, very tiny part of the population; I was a pregnant teacher. I was the vulnerable group. I was the “sensitive population.” Today, I also want to speak up for a group I didn’t spend my life serving, today’s vulnerable group. I want to say a word for the elderly and the immune-compromised.

Today, I am healthy as is my beautiful ten-year-old son Oliver. In 2009, my mother’s fully cultivated mama bear roared and broke the paralysis I felt in that staff meeting. I ended up advocating for myself. I called my doctor and told her what I had learned. And, with her support along with that of my principal and my teacher team, I went and stayed home. My son was born a number of weeks later. Advocating for myself was an act of privilege I am immensely aware of.

Today, I am aware of my privilege once again. Though we are at a lower risk, my son and I are at home. His school closed this week and will remain closed “at least” through early April. When I think of the students and families I served, I can hear my own inner advocate speaking because I devoted the majority of my teaching years to disenfranchised communities. I worked with and adored many families who will scramble with this news. And that is where I ask us to sing together. I hear the venom on both sides of this issue. I can also remember how alone I felt when I knew I was the one at most risk, but I was also such a small minority. Most people in 2009 recovered without issue. Yet during that time, I was desperate for a plan. A community response. A community advocate.

I do not envy anyone who has had to make the tough decision to stay open or to close. And the purpose of this message is not to take a stance, but rather to shed light on the love, sense of solidarity, and the protection that must bond all teachers and educators during these times.

What I am hoping to make clear, is the difficult decision to close schools is not made from a place of hysteria today. We know children are not at very high risk. Most educators are not either. We could all get this virus and be just fine.

I write this because I want to evoke the faces of all the grandparents raising their grandchildren. Grandparents with diabetes and heart failure. Where will those children go if their grandparents pass? I think of grandparents and great-grandparents who are watching this all from eldercare facilities. They have nowhere to go and no one to call to protect them. They sit waiting. I think of my cousin, who is an ER nurse. She has two hands and two feet. She can only care for so many sick patients at a time, and she has shared through sad, traumatized eyes what happens when resources run out. I think of my dear childhood friend finishing her fourth round of chemo as she beats Leukemia. She already struggles to keep her immune system strong enough to cope with average bacteria and viruses. The minority means the world to me.

We work with the children. We must protect them. We also work for the community. Our students come to us from the community and they return to that community when the day ends. We are the hub of every community. I hope we can sing together during this time and stand in solidarity with love and kind words. If you are in a school that is still open, my heart is with you. Try to protect the children from all the fear and anxiety. If you are teaching and are in a vulnerable group, please let go of the shame to protect yourself and go home. If you are in a closed school or district and are frustrated with the process, try to remember the minority. I also hope we can remember the children and families who need an incredible amount of support through this. Please write your senators and local officials beseeching them for increased services, bill pardoning, paid sick days for all, and everything we will all desperately need to be in this together.

From my teacher heart to yours, I send love, compassion, and understanding. I ask that you sing with me and all our teacher friends from here, to Italy, to China. May our song be heard around the world.

Infinite Love,

Brittany Cufaude

Please share if you know someone who needs a touch of love and compassion during this time.


2 Responses

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