Diversity & Inclusion
COVID-19 / Digital access / Education / Guest posts

School starts this week. This teacher (and parent) has a challenge for Philadelphia

Middle school science teacher Ami Patel Hopkins calls for empathy as she and other local educators navigate difficult back-to-school circumstances: "Now is not the time to divide, but come together."

Ami Patel Hopkins. (Courtesy photo)
This guest post was written by Ami Patel Hopkins, who currently teaches fifth and sixth graders science at Science Leadership Academy Middle School and was previously the kindergarten transition fellow for the School District of Philadelphia. This column represents her individual opinion and does not represent the viewpoints of organizations with which she is affiliated either professionally or personally. It previously appeared on sister site Generocity.
Summer has ended and the normal excitement of the beginning of the school year looks much different for me this year.

Last week, I participated in seven full days of professional development on a screen. I finally get to “see” my students on my birthday, Sept. 2 (best birthday gift). I am a full-time teacher and a mother to a 3-and-a-half-year-old toddler whose preschool still has not opened.

I get it. I get many perspectives.

As a science teacher, I believe the scientists who are working nonstop to find a way to stop COVID.

As a full-time working mamma, I get how it is impossible to do your full-time job and teach your child. And in my case, my full-time job means teaching your child as well.

As someone who has worked for three large bureaucracies and has advised decision-makers, I can empathize and understand that any decision you make will be criticized by someone.

As the board chair of a school, I do not envy principals right now and the difficult decisions they are making each day.

Each day,  I enter a school building, I am grateful for the opportunity to inspire and be inspired by fifth- and sixth-grade scientists and challenge them to see that “Science is everywhere!”

But, each day I also enter a school building and am willing to take a bullet (yes, that is our reality) for my students.  You know why? Because I take my duty as an educator (which includes “in loco parentis”) very seriously. How do I interpret “in loco parentis”? I will treat your child as my own.

Now that I am a parent, my role as an educator has shifted. I truly get it. When I have conversations with families, I connect on being a parent myself and understand too well that when you are faced with decisions, you need to make the right one or the guilt will be there always. I love my students as I love my own biological toddler and would risk my life for them.

But with COVID, it is more than my own life. If it was just my life, I would gladly go into my school building as I do with the risk of being around mold and other allergens that impact my personal health each day. But with COVID, it is the lives of my students and their families.

Many of my students live in multi-generational homes in which grandparents (also a population at high-risk for COVID) have taken on the role of caregiving and in the current state, their grandchild’s teacher. Many young families I know, have packed things up and moved back in with their parents so they can have assistance while they work full-time virtually and have children attending school virtually or have no childcare option. That is not an option for our family. My family is in Baltimore and our life is in Philly.

I am going through the same emotions as coming up with a Plan B for my son’s preschool. This summer, my summer job fell through. At first, I was devastated because most teachers have a side hustle to support their families. I have several and was depending on this one for extra summer income, especially after taking a significant salary cut to return back into the classroom last year. Mostly all of my first year School District of Philadelphia teacher salary went toward mortgage, student loans and child care.

And you know what is sad? Most early childcare education staff earn low wages and live in poverty. But, I embraced having the extra quality time with my son this summer and being able to see his mind develop before me (which I would not have missed out on had he been in school). We learned how to read, write, speak in Gujarati, look at life through a STEAM lens, cook, experience joy outdoors through play and much more!

I have worked all summer to self-reflect and think of how I go in each day with an anti-racist, social justice lens (like I am doing as a parent — I am finding books for my son’s library where he is represented as a mixed-race child, finding media for him where he is represented, introducing him to people who are half-Indian like him — like the Democratic VP candidate for the United States). I am constantly thinking of how I will do that for my students and ensure that they feel safe in my care.

I am sad in that I won’t be in-person to build real community with my students. But, I know this is the safest option for now so I have been finding ways all summer to learn how to make learning collaborative online and create a space where I can still be “in person” even in the virtual world!

I am holding on to hope that I will be able to see my students again in person and greet them with COVID-cautious elbow greetings and air high-fives!

I am also overwhelmed because I am currently without any preschool option for my son as his center has no reopening date in sight. So I am scrambling to find a Plan B. My husband and I are looking at my teaching schedule and figuring out how we can alternate our screen time to still work full-time and make our current child care situation (no preschool for my son) work for us as a family.

So my challenge to my fellow educators and my fellow parents and guardians: Please show empathy toward each other as we embark on this historic school year. It is the only way forward. Now is not the time to divide, but come together, like convergent boundaries — remember, science is everywhere!

Companies: School District of Philadelphia
Series: Coronavirus

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