'Lives of my family are not and never were a part of my teaching contract’

Gwinnett physics teacher resigns rather than place his family at risk from COVID-19

This is a powerful and frank piece by a Gwinnett science teacher who decided to quit because of concerns over contracting and bringing COVID-19 home to his family.

By Jonathan Crymes

I’m a Gwinnett County high school teacher, a Ph.D. with more than 30 years teaching experience, and I am done.

How did this happen when abysmal pay, atrocious working conditions, absurd hours, high stress, toxic testing and never-ending attacks from the media, politicians and public couldn’t make me quit?

I’m a physicist, and my degree is one of the top 10 money-earners in the nation, so I obviously wasn’t in education for the money. I am a teacher because I love teaching and helping kids learn and grow into a career for a good life.

So, why am I leaving? For the lives of my family.

I’m heartbroken. I’m angry. Livid. I’ve finally been forced to walk away from my kids. My students. My children. Kids who instantly become extended-family the moment they walk in my class, whether they know it or not. Kids I fight for, cheer for, and give my heart to, praying it will be the difference to their future.

Credit: Jonathan Crymes

Credit: Jonathan Crymes

I’m fortunate. I can walk away to protect my wife, our two little boys and two elderly parents. Because my wife has two health conditions that make her high-risk and extremely vulnerable to COVID-19, there’s a much better chance that it would kill her.

She is also one of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s medical doctors working on the COVID-19 pandemic, and her job is now considerably more important than mine. There’s absolutely no way I’m going to risk her life so I can teach in-person. Remotely, sure. In-person, no way. And I’m furious that my family’s lives are considered disposable.

Part of the problem is that teachers have put up with so much for so long and bent over so far to accommodate the silly whims of legislation and lawmakers. As a result of the shattered nuclear family, society has become too dependent on us.

We’re expected to save society from every little ill that everyone is now shocked that we’re putting our foot down and saying, “No.” Society has never heard that from us before. It’s as though Wonder Woman and Superman are saying, “Not gonna die for you. Not gonna let my family die for you.”

And society is lost and scared without us.

The public, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the politicians have all forgotten what a packed school looks like, much less a classroom. Small rooms or even trailers jammed with 35 to 40 children, sitting elbow-to-elbow for hours at a time. My 35 students sit in a 25-foot x 26-foot area.

The only comparable venue is a music concert. And they’re still closed. And concerts tend to not last for eight hours.

After reading the Atlantic’s “I’m a Nurse in New York” article, I was stunned by the author’s ignorance in stating that if she could return to work, then teachers should. Well, give me your facilities, funding, training, experience, education, equipment, and patient load and I will.

I see 150 kids in close proximity in a single day, just in my room, not counting lunch duty, where there are 800 in one room, library, class changes, morning and afternoon hall duty, bus duty, etc. How many patients do you see in a shift? Hmmm? Please, I’m (possibly) dying to know.

Worsening the problem is that even some teachers are not taking masks or social distancing seriously. Even the science teachers who should know better aren’t, which baffles me.

At my school, I regularly see teachers not wearing masks, socializing within two feet. I mention it to them, send emails with my concerns to the administration, and stay well away. Since I only leave my room once or twice during the day to go to the restroom, I see a tiny fraction of my co-workers.

Yet, walking from my car to my classroom, I saw six teachers with no masks covering their mouth or nose. The masks were worn as chin straps, if worn at all. During pre-planning, one such staff member was in a group putting together the school’s safety and emergency folders. Irony.

Let’s be clear. There are signs posted stating masks are mandatory. We get reminders from the administration. We had two (albeit super-brief, maybe 10 minutes total) “staff developments” on COVID-19 safety.

Today, each time I was out of my room, I saw teachers with no masks, and we have kids in the building now that are seeing this and learning the wrong lesson. From their teachers, no less

Why? Because teachers are not medical professionals. It hasn’t been drilled into us through long training and by seeing diseases firsthand. We don’t have contagions in front of us every day.

Most don’t get the virus doesn’t care if we’re slack in our habits. They don’t understand that to this virus, we, the teachers, are a tasty blood-bag buffet, while it looks for the next walking buffet.

And so are our kids.

Society has asked for the lives of my family by requiring me to face a COVID-19 hot spot every work day. The lives of my family are not and never were a part of my teaching contract. To people who should know better, my family is considered a disposable, unfortunate collateral casualty, and are dismissed with a shrug because in-person instruction is mandatory.

Teachers are disposable. Okay. No surprise there. That’s been standard operating procedure since the start.

My wife and kids aren’t.