Less than two months ago, the Chicago Teachers Union had to fight hard to increase testing, as we were being told by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that cloth masks were not enough. Now, testing is up and cases are down, at least temporarily, but we don’t really know that it will stay that way. So, when it was announced that the Chicago Public Schools mask mandate was being lifted because of a lawsuit coming from southern Illinois, that news definitely didn’t give me a sense of relief.
We’re all struggling with heightened anxiety these days. And for subs, the nature of our job is not conducive to relaxation. Simply being a substitute teacher in Chicago Public Schools is not a job for someone who relies on order and predictability. Most of the time you are expected to just jump in and get to work, making sure that 15 or 30 or 50 children somewhere between the ages of 4 and 21 have a relatively successful school day and learn something, and that nobody gets hurt or dies in the process.
We day-to-day substitutes do all of this for a little more than $100 a day and no benefits.
Perhaps the goal of keeping kids alive and unhurt, bonus points for learning something, sounds like a low bar of success for a sub. It’s not easy to judge a sub’s success when our success rides on so many factors beyond our control: from the day of the week and the school assigned, to the chemistry within the group of kids and whether the WiFi is working that day. Throw in a pandemic and staff shortages, and it just doesn’t get less stressful.
‘It’s a Bit Terrifying’
Honestly, going mask-optional, it’s a bit terrifying. The last couple of years have been all the anxiety we need already, right?
Not everyone feels that way of course. Besides all the people who still believe that COVID-19 is a hoax or that masks don’t work, there are ordinary people who still don’t understand why it would matter to anyone else whether or not they wear a mask.
I’ve heard more than a few other subs say that if someone’s worried they can wear a mask, but if not they don’t have to. Unfortunately, that shows that many people still don’t understand how masks work or they don’t really care.
We’re all tired, we all want this to be over, but I don’t think it’s over yet and I don’t think it’s time to “go back to normal,” which wasn’t really all that great anyway, but that’s not important right now.
Fortunately, I don’t think most staff and students will stop wearing masks. But if they do, the effects will be devastating. Most of us are still worried about the dangers of contracting COVID-19. We are too close to people who are at risk, or we have already experienced some of the serious dangers.
More of us will quit or stay home because without benefits we can’t afford to be sick. We also can’t afford to take sick days when we are sick. Both of those things mean there will be a bigger burden placed on the subs that continue to come in and cover classes.
I hope that the staff and students in CPS will continue to do the right thing and protect the most vulnerable people during this pandemic. Despite all the outside influences pushing in a different direction, I believe that we can stay masked, and I have hope that we will.