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NEVADA VIEWS: We are not babysitters

There has not been a more challenging time for public education than the one we find ourselves in at this moment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since school buildings were closed last spring, the Nevada State Education Association has engaged in discussions about how to safely reopen buildings. The association, along with our local affiliates, has been active in the process of developing “return to site plans” so that our members may deliver high-quality instruction to our students in a safe manner.

Whether the mode of instruction is in-person, hybrid or distance learning, the professional educators in Nevada have risen to meet the moment.

In these past few months, Gov. Steve Sisolak has stated the economy runs through our schools. We agree. What we do not agree with is the recurring theme by Nevada decision-makers that educators are babysitters hired simply to watch your child for a few hours during the week. We hear this when folks demand that we “open the schools!” so parents do not need to worry about child care. We also hear this from our elected and appointed officials, who have let this line of thinking slip into their justification of various return-to-school-site proposals.

Let me be clear: Educators are not babysitters.

This narrative completely misrepresents what we do each and every day. It devalues the relationships we foster with students, it devalues the social and emotional growth that we facilitate, and it devalues the work we do to make our children the best and most well-rounded people they can be.

Nevada’s infection spike has hit educators and students especially hard. In Washoe County, there is a staffing shortage because of employees being quarantined after testing positive for COVID-19. In Clark County, there are approximately 900 daily requests for substitute teachers. With those troubling numbers, we need to take action to continue learning while keeping our community safe.

The “solution” announced by Gov. Sisolak and the Department of Education last month is a new “Any Warm Body Will Do” regulation for substitute teachers. Unlike regular substitute teachers, who are required to have a minimum of 60 credits from a college or university (or an associate’s degree or higher), emergency substitute teachers need only a high school diploma and pulse. This is hardly the solution to “equitable access to educational opportunities for all students” that the governor and education department press release claims it is.

With this regulation, the decision-makers in charge of public education in Nevada have shown their hand: They believe our students need just babysitters. The message this regulation sends to our teachers and the profession as a whole is that that educators are replaceable with someone who has no advanced degree or specialized training to improve our practice. To parents, the message is about simply providing child care.

It is shameful to treat our educators, students, and parents with such disrespect. Quite frankly, it is absurd to even use the word “teacher” in the job description.

The goal of public education is not to warehouse our children. The goal of public education is to develop the whole child over 13 years through professional instruction and relationships. Unfortunately, we will fall short of that goal with regulations such as this, which provide nothing more than a warm body so the state education officials can accrue a legal “‘instruction” day.

Educators are working harder and smarter than they ever have, and we are tired. We are not just tired because of the countless hours spent ensuring our kids have us there to teach and guide, but we are tired of the words. We’re tired of hearing about how essential we are, but then seeing policies such as this that devalue everything we do. We’re tired of hearing how the economy runs through our schools, but then not being put near the front of the vaccine schedule so that we can return to in-person instruction. We’re tired of being called heroes and not receiving the support we deserve when we demand that officials listen to educators.

Educators are tired, but we hope this letter will serve as a wake-up call to others.

— Brian Rippet is president of the Nevada State Education Association.

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