Frontline Nurses versus Frontline Educators; Teachers you have every right to complain!

The following is reposted from a Teachers Facebook Group

From a nurse friend of mine (following an article written by a nurse critical of teachers being worried about returning):

After seeing an article written by a nurse ripping down teachers, I wanted to say this myself from a nurse to all the Teachers: you have every right to complain.

This isn’t a post about whether I think kids should or shouldn’t be in school. For the record, I think that completely depends on the specific community. But this is about the backlash teachers are getting for being worried. This post is for the nurses who think teachers are overreacting or that they already do what teachers are being asked to do.

All healthcare workers are carrying an intense burden right now. The mental toll of pandemic nursing is huge, for some way more than others. I am not minimizing that in the least. But to minimize the stress of teachers and schools right now, to criticize their fears, or to direct such harsh words at them is a failure to recognize that they carry their own burdens that most of us will never understand, with work environments that are not comparable in the least.

Hospitals are incredibly controlled environments. Even in my penny-pinching under-staffed county hospital where I reuse the same PPE for many shifts, I’m more protected there than many other places. Every single patient is tested on arrival to the hospital, droplet precautions with eye protection are used for every single patient regardless of test results, I’m literally foam sanitizing my hands hundreds of times a day, visitors are restricted, and every single person in the building has a mask on at all times. Since I am a casual nurse who mostly works peds, I’ve only taken care of 6 Covid patients, but for every one of those patients, I’ve had full gear on every time I’ve entered the room and spent as little time in the room as possible depending on their needs. Do I get nervous that I’m going to bring Covid home? Yes. But I still feel like we are doing our best to take precautions.

Teachers will be working in an incredibly uncontrolled environment. No ability to test every student routinely, no ability to restrict student exposure outside of school, way higher concentration of congregation inside rooms, and less ability to adhere to strict mask and hygiene measures.
We are still learning what role kids actually play in carrying the virus, but what we do know is that they are just as likely to get infected, and even more likely to be infected without knowing it. We know that adolescents are just as likely to spread it around as adults, which includes all middle and high schoolers. And even if younger kids are less likely to spread it, they are more likely to be gross. They won’t keep masks consistently or properly in place, they won’t keep their fingers out of their noses or mouths, they won’t wash their hands as well, they won’t stay away from each other, and they won’t stay away from the teachers. And those same kids will all be in the same room together for up to 6-8 hours at a time. 2 words for that: Viral. Load.

But let’s just pretend for a second that Covid spread and teacher safety isn’t an issue, or that exposure risk just isn’t the same. Teachers are worried about way more than just safety. They are stressing about the major changes, the inconsistency, and the nightmare logistics. Teachers wish they could just “do their job”...but they are being asked to do so much more. If in the classroom, they are being asked to figure out how to teach kids without sharing spaces or supplies or doing group activities...standard circle time or stations or partner work all completely reformed. If hybrid they are being asked to figure out how to teach in person and online simultaneously, in some instances literally doubling their workload. And if distance learning they are being asked to figure out how to engage and teach students in an incredibly difficult format they’ve never done before. They know it didn’t work in the Spring. They know it has to be better. To top it all off they are being asked to figure out how to be flexible enough to be able to switch back and forth between any of these plans at any moment. They aren’t being asked to do their jobs: they are being asked to do a completely different job in a completely different way that nobody has done before and nobody really quite knows how to do.

Before any nurse tries to convince me that they are required that same flexibility, I’m going to argue that what teachers are being asked to do goes way beyond the equivalent of floating to other units, it is the equivalent of working in a hospital and on a unit for which you’ve never been trained, with double the patients you are used to having, with a computer charting system you’ve never used, and then when finally becoming a little more comfortable, being expected to switch to a different place without warning. Even agency nurses get some orientation, but they also signed up for that and their paycheck reflects the increased difficulty. And even if you could prove that your job requires that level of flexibility, or wanted to equate the teaching changes to the more simple floating to other units or taking patients on your unit that you wouldn’t normally take...the irony is that so many nurses, myself included, complain about even just that. We don’t like to be out of our comfort zone or feel like we are putting our own license in jeopardy when we are understaffed or underprepared. We don’t like to be told “a nurse is a nurse” because it’s not true. So we complain.
So much complaining. Yet we are expecting teachers not to.

Hospitals focus on acute needs. Sure, we bring in social workers or other disciplines to try to help address patient needs outside of their current illness or injury. But how many times do we get to tell them to follow up with their primary provider? Order consults for other outpatient follow up? In reverse, outpatient clinics get to transfer care to other disciplines or hospitals when beyond their scope. We all get to focus on the present and often pass the buck on the rest. Schools don’t get to do that because of the direct impact that their status will have on so many things.

Teachers and schools are the only places responsible for as much as they are responsible for, so the magnitude of what happens or doesn’t happen in schools does require this much thought and planning and change. It’s ridiculous to compare them to any other industry where change and policy adaptation has a more focal effect.
In-person schooling potentially risks the physical health of students or staff and the community as a whole.
Distance learning potentially risks mental health, safety, and sometimes even access to vital resources.
They are stressing because there is no good option. They are stressing because whatever happens will have some negative impact, and they are directly involved and responsible. They are trying to be advocates for their own safety and their families, but also their students, only nobody can actually tell them with any certainty what is best. As nurses, don’t you ever get personally wrapped up in patient advocacy? Don’t you try to speak up if you don’t think a patient’s plan is in their best interest, regardless of whether or not you actually have a better answer?

There is also no comparison between healthcare and education funding. Nurses get paid much more at baseline for the same and sometimes even lesser education, for not that many more total hours in the year, and we get paid hourly for every hour we are there, including extra pay and bonuses when we work beyond scheduled hours. We also don’t have to spend our own money on patient supplies. Teachers not only have to spend their own money, but they work overtime without compensation, put in many hours of unpaid prep time at home, and are currently being asked to increase those hours even more without any additional pay.

But lastly, even if you find fault in every argument I’ve made, nurses are supposed to be compassionate. Some teachers are stressed. Some are scared. When this all started, many of us were scared too. They deserve our support and our compassion, not our criticism or unfounded comparisons.

Again, let’s all remember we are in the middle of a global pandemic and nobody has all the answers. Let’s lift each other up rather than tear each other apart.

 Thank you for reading. 

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