Am I morally obligated to teach in a pandemic?
June 29, 2020 6:52 AM   Subscribe

I live in the US, in a state where infection rates are increasing. My school district has made it clear that we are expected to teach in-person this fall, and they are taking a few inexpensive safety precautions. My friend thinks I'm a jerk for quitting. Am I?

If the COVID-19 situation stays like it is, or gets worse, I will quit my job before I go back to in-person teaching. I love my students and my work, but not enough to risk getting this disease (or worse, spreading it to family/people in higher risk groups). I have been extremely cautious about exposure in my personal life. I have savings (and few expenses), so being out of work for a while won't be a huge problem for me.

When I talked to a friend about this, she was shocked that I would consider quitting. Her objections:
1. I have an obligation to the students I teach, and to their families, for whom virtual learning is a hardship
2. If I quit, the district may hire someone who is older/more at-risk/more desperate for money than me to take my spot, and that would be my fault
3. Essential workers have been endangering themselves the whole time, now it's my turn (this one frustrated me: friend is an office worker, guaranteed to be fully remote at least through the end of the calendar year, so easy for them to say)

None of these objections had occurred to me. I'm a worker, and I don't think I should have to accept dangerous working conditions "for the greater good" (but then...what if nurses all said that? What if grocery store workers all said that?) Am I being a privileged jerk who feels entitled to physical safety because of my financial safety net? Am I morally obligated to go back to school in the fall?
posted by anonymous to Religion & Philosophy (54 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You are never obligated to put your life on the Altar of [Education, The Common Good, Profit, etc.]. None of us have signed up for working through a pandemic. The implied contract between the workers is that they will work if the employer can provide safe working conditions. If they breach their end of the deal, you have the right to walk away. Your friend’s argument conveniently omits a discussion of the district’s breach of its obligation to you. It’s not a good faith argument and a bit shocking in its disregard for your life and well-being.
posted by Atrahasis at 6:59 AM on June 29 [102 favorites]

Honestly I think the green is not the best place to ask these questions as you will get a lot of knee-jerk COVID-caution here and not a lot of firsthand experience with being an essential worker (we have some, but not a whole lot from what I've been reading.) Other teachers are probably the ones whose opinions are most on point.

I will tell you that from what I see around me, many families are at the very end of their rope with regard to the virtual learning and don't consider the arrangements that were in place from March-June to be at all sustainable going forward, on a number of fronts. And that's not even getting in to the extremely disparate impact it's had along economic lines.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:01 AM on June 29 [11 favorites]

If grocery workers all said that the stores would have to hire new workers and likely improve working conditions and pay more. Unless you're a medical worker, working during a global health emergency isn't a part of your job description. If imagine if enough teachers quit or threaten to the school board may do something about their precautions in order to convince y'all to stay.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:01 AM on June 29 [54 favorites]

No, you are not morally obligated to put yourself at risk. There has been a systemic failure in the United States, and no individual has the obligation to put themselves at risk because of it. However, if there is something you can do (that you are comfortable with risk-wise) to help your students / school district / the greater community, it would be a kindness (and a moral good) to do so. So perhaps, if you quit, you could volunteer some of your extra free time either helping those in your community or advocating for systemic change.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:03 AM on June 29 [10 favorites]

Well, on the first point, if you feel bad about virtual learning being a hardship, don’t. It absolutely is, but in-person learning is also a hardship for lots of disabled kids and has been forever. And in-person learning, at this point, is not only a hardship for them but LITERALLY RISKING THEIR LIVES. Nobody gave a good goddamn about the kids for whom in-person learning was a hardship, so while I have sympathy particularly for poor families, no one gets to argue you have an “obligation” to give people in-person learning when they never in a million years would have argued you had an obligation to those disabled kids who have needed online learning for years. Yes, a lot of families are suffering and it’s having impacts on marginalized groups more than others. But in-person has had the same impact for years on different populations, also along marginalized lines, with effects such as parents of color getting arrested because their kids are too sick to go to school. There’s nothing morally superior about in-person learning except that you’re prioritizing the needs of a different group of kids.

But I’m obviously quite biased and have a chip on my shoulder, so take it with a grain of salt.

Your second point basically means everyone in a shitty job should always stay because if they quit someone else will have to suffer. No. That’s a tool of employers to shame people into accepting shitty work conditions. At the very least quitting indicates they can’t just walk all over workers. Staying let’s them know they can get away with it. You didn’t sign up for this and quitting is not only within your right, it may help others at your school by signaling to the leaders they don’t get to do whatever the hell they want.
posted by brook horse at 7:06 AM on June 29 [75 favorites]

What? No. Nobody is ever obligated to stay in a job. You could quit if you just didn't feel like doing it anymore.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:19 AM on June 29 [36 favorites]

#2: You can only control yourself, not what the district or some random person you've never met does. And a counter-point: there are more dangerous jobs than teaching. If you kept your position, maybe that higher-risk/more desperate person would be stuck somewhere else that takes zero precautions and/or demands close physical contact over extended periods of time. You can't know, and people have to be allowed to make their own decisions.
posted by teremala at 7:19 AM on June 29 [4 favorites]

Business is business. Unless you are breaching a contract -- which it doesn't sound like you are doing -- they are making a business decision to set up the conditions in this unacceptable way and you are making a business decision not to participate. Each party in this makes the choice that best serves its needs.

Your friend is wrong, and frankly it seems pretty aggro that s/he would even be laying it on you that way.
posted by mccxxiii at 7:23 AM on June 29 [21 favorites]

Virtual learning is absolutely a hardship, definitely unsustainable, and has made parents' lives and jobs and livelihoods nigh impossible.


None of that is your personal responsibility to fix by staying in a job that's unsafe for you to do.

I hope you quit and feel wonderful about it.

(And if I may be a little greedy, I hope you use some of your free time (assuming you will have free time) to get involved in activism that forces administrators and legislators to do their fucking jobs by making it safe for teachers to work and children to attend school during a pandemic.)
posted by MiraK at 7:25 AM on June 29 [25 favorites]

I think it's jerkish to expect anybody to unwillingly put their life at risk in conditions that are genuinely risky. The fact that other people out there have had to do so doesn't make it any better. Virtual learning may be a hardship for some parents, but contracting COVID would be a hardship for you. And seconding brook horse's point about in person schooling being a hardship for some, especially among marginalized members of our student body - I work in Life Skills classrooms and am deeply worried about the health of many of our medically fragile students if we are back in person in the fall.

You are not morally obligated to return to school on the fall, ESPECIALLY if your district is not providing safe working conditions.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:31 AM on June 29 [6 favorites]

I know a couple of teachers who have quit their positions and found other ones because Covid-19 has put unsustainable burdens on them and their families.

A sick system is one where you feel that you have to keep working there or there will be terrible repercussions. Once it gets to that stage it has already failed.

As a teacher you are probably already working in almost unsustainable conditions without remotely adequate support.

Look into finding another way to support the students in your area from home, like virtual tutoring, or outdoor tutoring.

I know a call center that refused to let their workers work from home right up until too many of them quit and they had to start begging them to stay on if they let them work from home. Quitting force your school board to come up with better measures to protect the students - and more importantly those students' parents and relatives, far more than your going back to the classroom will help them. The value of classroom instruction is outweighed by the value of not being orphaned.

Your friend is laying a guilt trip on you. I think you should stay on at the classroom only if she becomes a volunteer classroom aid. Short of that.... you know your job and your situation and your students and the risk. She just wants someone to babysit kids so their parents can go out and get infected.

That said, if you do decided to keep working because you need the pay check, you are not making the wrong decision. You are making the best decision you can with the facts and situation as you know it. Maybe in September they will have a much better handle on things, or maybe they'll pay you, but keep pushing the opening back further and further back. Do what is best for your mental health.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:32 AM on June 29 [13 favorites]

So, if you were stuck on a dessert island with illiterate children and a few books, I might say you have an obligation to teach them. There are professions where I think people who enter those professions could have some obligations to risk their health but those should be clear up front.

For the grocery store example, if as a society we wanted to, we could have required all grocery stores to focus on curbside pick up. For nurses, if they don't have PPE I feel like the social contract with them - they risk their health, with mitigation - has been broken. For teachers, I feel like you did sign up to be in a classroom with children, but also a classroom where, for example, a child with measles would not be permitted to attend.

You're in a very wealthy country which has chosen to behave like they have no resources available other than giving you hand sanitizer and sending you on your way.

The US has amazing capabilities and a huge brain trust, which they could be applying to a wide variety of solutions including new models of education. Overall they are not currently applying very much of that to the realities of the pandemic. You don't have an obligation to literally throw your body into the gap.

I don't yet know how things will go down where I am (Ontario) - school board plans are due Aug 4; I can report back if you want - but I understand they have committed to providing the option for all students to learn from home this year, and as a result I am guessing/hoping that they will be trying to match teachers to students, like teachers who are high-risk will be teaching online, etc. If I would you I would let your boss and union (if you have one) know what you are willing to do, and what you are not willing to do and will result in your resignation. Maybe they will find some options. If not, resign in peace!
posted by warriorqueen at 7:38 AM on June 29 [44 favorites]

I'm an essential worker, I choose to be where I am in the united states doing my thing. And nobody gets to tell anybody else what to do and what your willing to live with at a job.

In many ways people choose jobs for all kinds of reasons. Some for monitary reasons, some for creative reasons, some for this was a job i could get reasons, some because they have preferences over noise or management style.

You have virus aversion preferences. That's 100% okay. Even among my group there's lots of dissonance in what is acceptable and non acceptable risks. We each manage them slightly differently. Some people quit or moved jobs, or changed how they worked.

Ultimately, if the US wanted we could stop everything and get covid down to zero. But that's not your choice. That's the choice of government to do public health policy in that way. That's not what happened this far. You get to choose your enviroment as much as you can within the constraints of this capitalist system, and if you dont have to risk yourself, it is okay not to. The virus absolutely doesn't care.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:39 AM on June 29 [9 favorites]

You certainly don't have a greater obligation to show up for work than your employer has to provide you with a safe workplace. If you let them know that you won't be returning to work because they didn't do enough to make the workplace safe, it's possible it could incentivize them to improve workplace safety.
posted by slkinsey at 7:50 AM on June 29 [14 favorites]

I'm not a public-facing essential worker, but I am essential and in the office a few days a week. I am also a person who has chosen to go to work in Ebola treatment centers and things like that. These exposures were and are my choices based on my values and the situation. As someone who has opted in (and not in a particularly dramatic fashion -- my risk has been much lower than my colleagues who are nurses or doctors), I am very uncomfortable with your friend putting their ethical demands on you. If they find it so necessary and morally wrong that one individual will not teach, they should go teach. It's one thing to believe that the school closures are unjust or bad for whatever reason; it's another to require that one person (a supposed friend!) show up for that.

Honestly, I think it's further evidence of American individualism -- "I don't have to do this, but someone else must" -- rather than the collective responsibility and care we ought have for each other. Like, I also think that school closures are specifically disadvantaging poor kids and communities of color, and that the impact is disproportionate -- but the answer here is not that we march teachers at gunpoint to meet these needs, it's that we set up a system that allows these needs to be met and allows teachers to be safe. Come on.
posted by quadrilaterals at 7:52 AM on June 29 [38 favorites]

You are not morally obligated and your friend is a jerk who should keep an eye on their own morals, not yours. Such a line of reasoning would mean we all should quit our jobs and sign up as essential workers, jobs for which many of us probably aren’t particularly suited. It’s not as if choosing to become a teacher (or any other job) locks you into the profession for life. Not even the oath-taking professions require us to pledge we’ll never change or quit our jobs. We are all more than any job.

Some essential workers are forced to do their work due to financial obligation (terrible). Others are choosing to do so, and they might cite a moral obligation in the sense of a personal ethical or religious belief, but that does not mean they have no choice, or that their job is the only way to fulfill those personal beliefs. If no one became a nurse, we would have no nurses, but that doesn’t mean we’re all obligated to become nurses.

In my opinion we all share a moral obligation to do the best we can to love one another. There are many ways of doing that.
posted by sallybrown at 7:54 AM on June 29 [5 favorites]

I’m a teacher. You have no moral obligation to next year’s students. If your district, like mine, is in fact laying off teachers, it sounds like you’re actually ethically helping someone who might otherwise lose their job; you would at least be providing an opening for a teacher laid off elsewhere.

Your prospective students will be fine. You do not owe them ANYTHING, and that pernicious idea that teachers should put up with appalling working conditions “for the children” is what allows teachers to continue being exploited as workers.

We are expecting lots of staff to not return on the fall. I do not blame any of them.

And I’m quite angry on your behalf that ANYONE would suggest there’s anything unethical about your choosing to not return.

Stay well.
posted by lysimache at 8:00 AM on June 29 [45 favorites]

Added to all of this is the pernicious idea that teachers and librarians (and some others) are driven by "love of the work" rather than things most people choose jobs for (paycheck, hours, location, etc). For some reason this assumption makes non-teachers and non-librarians think that it's OK to reduce pay, increase hours, etc because "they love their jobs." To which, no.

If you feel in danger, quit with a clear heart.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:01 AM on June 29 [43 favorites]

It is a common but false dichotomy to assume teachers’ and students’ needs are mutually exclusive. Students need calm, positive, well-prepared teachers who can properly guide them through big emotions and difficult circumstances — in a crisis, this is even more true. Sick, overly-stressed teachers who don’t have enough time to prepare transmit their feelings to students (and now, actual illness as well); this creates more chaos and uncertainty at a time when children can least handle it. If your district isn’t caring for its workers, then it is not caring for its students. Full stop.

Your friend’s attempt to frame this conversation as “do it for the children!” falls into this trap. I’m sure they mean it unintentionally and not manipulatively, but it’s still incorrect. You do not need to sacrifice yourself for your students, and a system that requires that is failing all of its stakeholders. I know it feels to some people like Covid really does change the framework, since young children have a lesser risk than their adult teachers, but it’s not true — some students are high-risk themselves and many have high-risk loved ones at home. Minimal precautions don’t protect them any more than they do you.

I encourage you to be vocal about your reasons for leaving in exit interviews, to your principal, and to your colleagues. Some may give you flak, but your voice and actions can help people remember what’s at stake.

Your friend is also clearly not in education, as I think their expectations about who would replace you are wrong. Far and away your most likely replacement is a new teacher straight out of school, not somebody older than you. Half of all teachers quit within 5 years, and in many places long-term teachers would take a big salary cut if they switched districts, which is why older teachers tend to stay put in the school they’re in. You can’t know who replaces you, so that argument is moot. I mention this because your friend isn’t an authority on this.
posted by lilac girl at 8:03 AM on June 29 [17 favorites]

2. If I quit, the district may hire someone who is older/more at-risk/more desperate for money than me to take my spot, and that would be my fault
3. Essential workers have been endangering themselves the whole time, now it's my turn

Why does that apply to you and not your friend? If they are healthy, do they have an obligation to quit their job and work as a teacher, delivery person, or other essential job and let someone older or otherwise at higher risk have their non-essential office job?
posted by Garm at 8:05 AM on June 29 [28 favorites]

Want to know how to fail an EMT practical exam scenario? Don't look directly at the proctor - first thing, before you move a muscle - and say, "BSI, scene safe."

Body substance isolation (gloves & mask), no fire, traffic controlled, no shooters, LE on scene if necessary...

You are your own first responsibility.
posted by j_curiouser at 8:06 AM on June 29 [8 favorites]

People quit teaching all the time, and for reasons much dumber than this (which, to clarify, I don't think is a dumb reason at all). I would say that your friend sounds like they've never talked to a teacher before, but you're friends, so... it sounds like your friend doesn't listen to you anyway, so who cares what they think?
posted by kevinbelt at 8:14 AM on June 29 [5 favorites]

Yeah, you are not obligated to light yourself on fire to keep your students warm. My cousin retired from teaching at the end of March because she found distance learning unbearable and could not see things getting better in her district.

Your friend has some balls.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 8:14 AM on June 29 [10 favorites]

You are under zero obligation to work under unsafe conditions.

School districts foster a culture of martyrdom to stay afloat. Think about how socially unacceptable it would be among staff if someone simply refused to ever come in early or stay late, decided not to buy classroom materials with their own funds that will never be reimbursed, declined to spend their only prep period covering for someone else, or took extra time off to recover from an illness. In the districts where I have worked that person would be treated as an absolute pariah. We are all supposed to be “doing it for the kids.” The attitude that we’re all supposed to endanger ourselves speaks to the lack of value placed on what has traditionally been seen as “women’s work.”

Nobody’s education is worth your life. Your friend can get an emergency teaching credential if they feel this strongly about it.
posted by corey flood at 8:18 AM on June 29 [27 favorites]

I'm a teacher too. You're 100% allowed to quit.

This is a shitty situation overall. Distance learning is no substitute for real learning, and it absolutely should be a societal imperative to get kids and teachers back into classrooms safely.

If the state wanted this to happen, they'd be surging capacity into education now - opening up new buildings, getting everyone safe resources, hiring teachers to support small classes. None of that is happening, and it's all being pushed on teachers to "make do" without proper equipment or preparation.

So the state has completely failed to uphold it's end of the bargain. There's no reason you should feel guilt about not upholding yours.

One other thought: Schools are going to have to maintain some kind of distance learning presence, in case of a COVID surge that requires a "hybrid" schedule or just in case of vulnerable students that medically can't enter the building. There may in this evolving world still be a need/place for a few teachers who are fully virtual.
posted by Wulfhere at 8:23 AM on June 29 [12 favorites]

The consensus here is clear, but adding - no, you do not have an obligation to risk your own life to teach, you do not owe it to the children or anyone else. Our society has made its choices about what it values and education and well-being of children is not it. It is not on you, personally, to risk your health or life or those of your family to try to counter-balance that.

If you quit you can do so with a clear conscience.

I don't think arguing that other essential workers have already been mistreated and are in a shitty position is an argument for others to take the same deal - it's an argument that we need to reconsider what we're asking of essential workers and do better by them.

Maybe this is just a blind spot for someone who's otherwise a wonderful person, but their arguments do not make me think highly of your friend -- especially for someone who gets to sit in safety but is willing to risk your neck.
posted by jzb at 8:24 AM on June 29 [8 favorites]

Also, if the parents of students in your class are unhappy about distance learning, they are probably putting pressure on the school, the school district, and their elected representatives to make changes (which is as it should be). You and the other teachers have just as much right to put pressure on those same institutions to make sure that you and other teachers stay safe, and quitting is one version of that. That distance learning absolutely sucks for parents doesn’t mean the teacher gets thrown under the bus.
posted by sallybrown at 8:24 AM on June 29 [8 favorites]

You might have more protections if you do this in collaboration with others, especially via a union. ("might" - I'm far from an expert).
posted by slidell at 8:29 AM on June 29 [3 favorites]

I'm a teacher. I'm already back in the classroom, only teaching half of the class for the moment each day, because the kids are on alternating schedules to lower the density. I expect to be teaching as usual in autumn.

But I live in Austria, where the basic reproduction number is 1.1 right now. Our government took swift and effective measures and we almost had no execess mortality so far, although I don't want to praise the day before the evening. I do worry about a second wave - people observed the lockdown rules fairly strictly in the beginning, which is probably one of the reasons we've had such a good outcome so far, but now since things never got quite as dire as in other places, people are getting careless. Still, while I'm otherwise no fan of the party currently in power, I feel that this particulary crisis has so far been managed comparatively competently, the risk involved is therefore managable and I am willing to take a manageable risk to do my part.

I assume that you live in a place where this is very much not the case, the time gained by lockdown has been squandered, and the risk is not manageable at all. It is not your job to compensate for that failure of leadership. Refusing to might be the best way to create pressure on politicians to do a better job, which would ultimately serve everyone better than you needlessly sacrificing yourself.
posted by sohalt at 8:37 AM on June 29 [6 favorites]

Your employers are the ones who have made the unethical move by making you choose between your health and your job.

Your employers have an obligation to the students you teach, and to their families, for whom virtual learning is a hardship. If you quit the district may hire someone who is older/more at-risk/more desperate for money than you to take your spot, and that would be your employer's fault.

I don't have as tidy (some would say pat) a rebuttal to your third point except to say I think it doesn't make any sense. It's nobody's TURN. This isn't a board game. Essential workers are continuing to see people when there's no way around it, and it's a terrifying part of their job, and it doesn't apply to you, who can do your job remotely as many teachers are, I gather. They're just different situations. Should tech workers all go back into their officers and breathe on each other because essential employees are at risk?
posted by less of course at 8:38 AM on June 29 [8 favorites]

One of my kids had several teachers in a row who clearly did not want to be teaching. It was terrible, and I found myself hoping the teachers would get so burned out they'd quit. If you don't want to be in the classroom please don't be there, no matter what the reason.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:44 AM on June 29 [7 favorites]

We are where we are in the United States because of malicious, willful incompetence on the part of leadership. It is not anyone's personal responsibility to cover for that at physical/mental cost to themselves (though of course it's nothing new to ask teachers to sacrifice themselves to patching up the holes in a failing system.)
posted by geegollygosh at 8:54 AM on June 29 [12 favorites]

You are not morally obligated to go back for any of those reasons. The one thing I'd be concerned about is your ability to get another job, though. Who knows there these days.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:57 AM on June 29 [2 favorites]

This doesn't directly answer your question, but I saw this tweet and google document (from a former classmate of mine who teaches HS English) gathering questions & concerns of teachers throughout NJ about opening in person:

The fact that they gathered over 200 unanswered questions in a few days seems quite telling to me. Not to say that you have any responsibility to do anything except make the decision that's best for you, but this list seems like a useful starting point for folks to take action to improve the re-entry plan or support a decision to step away.

If nothing else, this document clearly shows that you are not alone in your concerns!
posted by moogs at 8:59 AM on June 29 [4 favorites]

I'm a teacher in a unique school so our process has been incredibly different, but I will say this:
there are essential workers who would quit in the drop of a hat if they were financially able. They would not begrudge you doing the only thing people should be doing, which is staying the hell away from other people.

Also, being a teacher by profession doesn't mean you've signed away your health, safety and personal autonomy to 'the children'.
posted by wellifyouinsist at 9:25 AM on June 29 [9 favorites]

You have no moral obligation but your friend sounds like they think they have one. Sign them up for some teaching certification mailing lists.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:36 AM on June 29 [12 favorites]

No you are not obligated to put your life at risk. You're not obligated to do any job at any time. My impression is that most of the protocols we'll need to put in place will make teaching a deeply unpleasant job for a long time. What you're doing make senses to me.

That said, if your only concern is your own safety, it's worth bearing in mind that transmission among even large groups of young people appears to be very low. See COVID-19 and Children: Our Crowd-sourced Data (very few cases among adults at daycares that have remained open) and Kids and Covid-19. Which is not to say it's safe. But it appears to be low risk.
posted by caek at 9:38 AM on June 29 [2 favorites]

Absolutely quit. You are not disposable. Your life is of value.

If you want to continue teaching, plenty of parents are making the choice not to send their kids back and would welcome a qualified teacher doing a zoom class a couple times a week and would pay you for it.

Making the choice not to expose yourself and potentially spread a novel virus during a pandemic is an ethical and moral choice. We know without a shred of a doubt that being indoors with other humans is how this spreads. You 100% should feel good about your choice not to participate in that sick system and choice.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:43 AM on June 29 [6 favorites]

I won't claim to have read every response above, but my and my wife's situation is work from home, while my daughter is a teacher at a charter school and my daughter-in-law an ICU nurse.

My daughter was remotely teaching because all the kids have laptops and and an arrangement that gave them free Internet at home. But the pandemic has disrupted families so that some kids can't live at "home", and were taking buses to be outside a library to pick up Wifi (except when it rained, and then they'd send apology emails to her). Other kids were the eldest and parent(s) were sick, quarantined or working strange hours, so eldest had to be temporary parent and do virtual learning. This is a high school so how will they handle change of class this coming fall?

My d-i-l has arranged it so that she works weekends and my son works from home during week. They have a toddler.

I think points 1 and 2 are cow pies. Point 3 depends on your own personal situation. I don't think every "essential" worker is working, just the ones who couldn't afford to do otherwise (which is a modern form of indentured servitude IMO). Unless I'm mistaken, almost all states in the USA (if that's where OP is) support at will terminations of most jobs by either side (but IANAL).
posted by forthright at 9:48 AM on June 29 [2 favorites]

You have no moral obligation but your friend sounds like they think they have one. Sign them up for some teaching certification mailing lists.

This. At the end of the day the person who decides what your obligations are is you.
posted by PMdixon at 10:10 AM on June 29 [5 favorites]

Re: nurses and grocery store workers, ICUs that take all necessary precautions have extremely reduced risk of transmission. And what IF all grocery store workers quit— the government would have to arrange safe, equitable food distribution? Oh no!
posted by stoneandstar at 10:27 AM on June 29 [7 favorites]

You might be interested in this story from Virginia: "A day after one of the nation’s largest school systems announced its proposal for fall learning, teachers within Fairfax County Public Schools rose in revolt and refused to teach in-person, as the plan demands, until officials revise their strategy." Link to Washington Post story.
posted by gudrun at 10:43 AM on June 29 [10 favorites]

The time and tax dollars that have been put into your own education should not be wasted by putting you into physically risky situations.

You can help more students by living longer and better, and by creating and working within a better, safer system.
posted by amtho at 10:51 AM on June 29 [6 favorites]

I'm a teacher, and you have no moral obligation to any future students. If you're in a union, absolutely reach out and ask what your options are. My district is giving parents the option to have their kids 100% online, so we're going to need online teachers for that. There might be TOSA positions that are outside the classroom. If you have a medical condition that puts you at high risk, your district might be required to accommodate you.

On the flip side, I've already signed my contract for the coming school year, that might also be a consideration.

All of this depends on what's in your contract... your union should be able to help.
posted by Huck500 at 11:29 AM on June 29 [5 favorites]

Of course you have no moral obligation to stay at your job if you don’t feel safe: I would say the same to any medical professional too.

There is pressure to end distance learning because, for many children and families, distance learning is a pile of shit that was only meant to keep us all (barely) afloat during the unexpected spring closure. That doesn’t mean it’s YOUR responsibility to teach in person if you don’t feel safe doing so, it means it’s the administration’s job to make it safe for children AND teachers to be in school if humanly possible.
posted by lydhre at 12:40 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]

Moral Obligation to expose yourself to a group of children, other teachers, administrators, parents daily? Not just No, but Absolutely No.

- Virtual Learning is problematic. Yes, it is. We are in a Pandemic, a National Emergency. There is a very long list of Things That Are Problematic.
- Getting Covid has @ 1% risk of death; greater if you are diabetic, pre-diabetic, have asthma, have any chronic illness, smoke, are old.
- You have an obligation to the students you do teach to do a good, maybe even great, job.
- Doctors take an oath. Nurses and other health care at least know they will be exposed to very sick people.

Don't quit. Tell your employer you require a safe environment. Urge your union to tell your school district you and all teachers, staff and students require a safe environment. Do not go to work in an unsafe environment. If they fire you, apply for unemployment. The way the US is (not) managing this is criminal.
posted by theora55 at 12:42 PM on June 29 [4 favorites]

Nthing everyone, but adding that teaching when you are afraid is not even good teaching. Speak up now, see what happens, and then make a judgment about what you want to do. You don't have to follow the "herd" into madness.
posted by DMelanogaster at 2:52 PM on June 29 [1 favorite]

Not at all. And leaving during the summer is fairly common for teachers, anyway.
posted by Neekee at 3:19 PM on June 29

As a teacher myself, I agree with the decision of quitting. There are many other schools and students out there desperate for teachers who are willing to work virtually. You will always have students who need you, and you will always have a job in teaching. My organization asked us how we would feel about being in-person in the fall, and one of the things I thought right away was how unrealistic the expectation is that children will consistently wear masks and practice social distancing at school. Adults in the US do not even know how to do that. What makes them think the kids can do that?
posted by sqrt(-1) at 5:42 PM on June 29 [2 favorites]

No no no no no. I'm sorry you're going through this! I left my role in education a few years back because it was destroying my mental health. Like absolutely ruined me. And it doesn't actually seem that different from the stress and anxiety caused by working with kids full time. I work retail now, and it's hard enough to manage adults who don't want to wear masks and follow instructions. When I was teaching, it was hard enough to get kiddos to stop wearing hats. This is going to be SO SO hard and you have every right to put your own needs first.

We make it seem like teachers are saints who are obligated to sacrifice everything (especially their money and time) to meet their kids' needs. But you're not paid nearly enough to begin with, and now to be asked to sacrifice your health AND the health of those you love? No. Not fair.

Now is a great time to talk to your union and see what others are thinking and what the next steps are as a collective group.
posted by violetish at 5:54 PM on June 29 [2 favorites]

Teachers, before COVID, already faced such pressure to accept any and all conditions of their job. You were not under any moral obligation to continue working as a teacher then, and you aren't now either.

You know how the teacher shortage could be eliminated? Pay more. But that won't happen if they can convince people that changing jobs is morally wrong. It's not "your turn" for anything, you going back to the classroom doesn't make others safer.

Your friend sounds like they are either jealous you are able to quit your job and look for something new, guilty that they have kids in school and know our society doesn't pay teachers well enough, or tired of having their kids at home doing remote learning and want someone to blame for it. Don't expect them to take your decision well, if they are not able to accept that it doesn't have anything to do with them you might grow apart for a bit.
posted by yohko at 6:00 PM on June 29 [7 favorites]

[One deleted. It's possible to be supportive of OP's choice while not unnecessarily vilifying parents who have problems with home-schooling.]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:30 AM on June 30 [2 favorites]

Am I morally obligated to go back to school in the fall?

posted by eirias at 7:28 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]

On the last Friday before the Sunday when the mayor announced that schools were closing, I came home from work feeling complicit and guilty. Part of me wanted to be there for and with my kids. But part of me sees that by me showing up for work business as usual, I am part of encouraging and bringing kids into an environment that isn’t safe.

In that last week, I spoke with multiple families who told me that as long as school was open, their kid was going. This was not for childcare - this is high school. It was parents who trusted that if schools were open, it’s because it was safe for their kids, it was immigrant families and marginalized families wanting the best education for their kids, not wanting their kids to fall behind.

Now we know that likely the illness isn’t so lethal for most adolescents. But many of these kids travel on transit and go home to multigenerational households with underlying conditions. If I come to work and help the disease pass along (either directly by unintentionally being a vector or indirectly by facilitating and normalizing an unsafe system), and it goes home and kills my student’s mother (and I had a few students who lost parents - what does that make me? I didn’t become a teacher to participate in homicide.

I think there’s a case to be made in the exact opposite of your friend’s argument. As teachers, maybe it’s our moral obligation to not show up and shore up unsafe school systems.

It’s complicated and it’s ugly in the USA now because no matter what we do, the most vulnerable will be the most hurt. At this point the main morally crystal clear thing to me is that come November we need to vote Trump and Republicans out of power. And I definitely do not agree that teachers have a moral obligation to return to our buildings under conditions that are unsafe for all of us - students, teachers, families, communities.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:44 PM on July 1 [4 favorites]

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