Ann Marie Coviello: The teachers here are not OK
Ann Marie Coviello explains how Louisiana teachers are caught in a mess of competing crises.
Today’s assignment: Create a Venn diagram. Draw one circle for the Delta variant surge. Draw another circle for the accelerating effects of climate change. Draw a third circle for the decades of divestment in public education. Draw a final circle for the labor crisis in which millions of workers, mostly women and people of color, are stranded in low-wage, low-respect, caregiving jobs.
At the center of all these circles are the public school teachers of South Louisiana.
We are not OK.
Louisiana was one of the states hardest hit by the first wave of the pandemic and was pounded by the Delta variant. As of this week, more than 14,600 in the state have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.
Last year, five named storms made landfall in Louisiana. Today Louisiana is still recovering from Hurricane Ida, a category 4 hurricane tied in strength to Hurricane Laura that hit last year as the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Louisiana in nearly two centuries. Thousands of Louisianians are without homes and suffered days without necessities like electricity, gas, and food. Tens of thousands of children were forced to stay home from school.
Teachers in South Louisiana felt the impact of the twin disasters of the pandemic and the hurricanes last fall, and again this year. Now Louisiana is staring down a crisis in its education workforce as education workers confront the long-term impact of the pandemic and Hurricane Ida on their lives and careers.
After the storm, I watched as a young, vibrant special education teacher packed up her classroom. She decided she couldn’t make it work anymore and gave notice. It was heartbreaking to see her mother and sister help her move the brightly colored bins of teaching supplies — bought with her own money — to her car. She was the first to go this year, but several other teachers have since given notice or decided to take their retirement mid-year.
The crisis facing education workers in Louisiana came about gradually, in the form of policy, then suddenly with the coronavirus. Gov. John Bel Edwards created responsible guidelines for mask-wearing, and schools reopened with the majority of the students in person in August 2020. Most school systems also offered a virtual option that allowed parents to keep their children learning from home, at the same time keeping in-person class sizes smaller to allow for social distancing.
It looked good on paper.