Photo by CDC on Unsplash

The coming wave of COVID-19 cases pose particular risks to students and education workers everywhere, but without a strong voice at the highest levels, teachers are especially vulnerable.

Unlike Berkeley County and Dorchester District 2, Charleston County has not decided to go virtual the next two weeks as the numbers of COVID-19 cases spike and a new, more contagious strain of the virus is popping up across the country. These COVID numbers will reach even greater proportions in the aftermath of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. 

McCorkle | File

I understand it is a complicated issue. I have a child in first grade, and my wife is a teacher in Dorchester District 2. I am also a teacher at the university level and taught some of my classes in person in the fall. I can attest to the fact that virtual education is far inferior to in-person education, especially in many settings where students are not even expected to have a camera on when conducting classes on platforms like Zoom. Even when students are engaged online, it does not have the same vibrancy as the face-to-face environment. This is especially true for younger students.

With that stated, we cannot just overlook what is occurring as deaths and infections from COVID-19 continue to climb. Teachers are the ones that are the greatest risk in this environment. Fortunately, younger students seem to be by and large not as negatively impacted by the effects of COVID-19, though there are certainly notable exceptions. 

But we can’t forget our teachers.

It is a delicate balance. We can’t keep the doors of the school closed until every single person is vaccinated and the spread has completely ceased. However, perhaps it should at least give us a little pause to continue on with business as normal as the rates climb. At the minimum, those individuals who are going to be most affected by the changes, teachers, should have a say in what occurs. It is fairly sad that a school board — whose members have little limited education experience — and the superintendent get to make these unilateral decisions without truly being led by the voices of teachers.

In most states, teachers would at least indirectly have a say through their union. Districts might trod a little more carefully because they know if they push too hard or disregard the voices of teachers too much, it could result in specific demands and eventually a strike. Unfortunately, the state of South Carolina is a right-to-work state where collective bargaining and strikes are prohibited, therefore teachers have less recourse in these types of situations. 

This relates to a larger issue in the state and the area, teachers need to have a seat at the education table. There should be a permanent spot for a current teacher on the school board, and there should be some system in place where teachers can actually have a real voice in what occurs, not the all-too-cliche, “We want to hear your concerns,” and then continue to do what was planned from the beginning.

Our state superintendent, Molly Spearman, has warned that we have a teacher shortage in the state. This is a massive issue, but it is not going to be changed by merely creating new programs to reach out to prospective educators or forming better mentoring programs in the schools. These are both good ideas.

However, in order to really deal with the teacher shortage, teachers not only need better pay, they need to feel protected and respected. This is an area where our state and many of our districts are falling short. 

Will McCorkle is a South Carolina educator and immigration advocate.