My Cousin Winnie: Teachers and the Like Keep Us Going in This Pandemic
I visited my cousin Winnie recently. She is a kindergarten para educator for children on the spectrum, and she got Covid-19 not so long ago. She exemplifies what teaching staff and many other underappreciated essential workers do to make the rest of us keep going! Long time ago I wrote about my own privileged life in this pandemic that is made possible only because of many essential workers from coffee shops and grocery stores to hotels and hospitals. I had some idea of what their lives were like, but only barely.
In my conversation with my cousin Winnie, I learnt much about children on the spectrum, and the lives of their parents and teachers. While the pandemic and being away from school have affected the well being of all children, they have been especially hard on special needs children. The children Winnie teaches have difficulty with normal social skills and use of language. To help them comprehend what a single word means takes days or months. One child is wheelchair bound. The challenges of another are such that nonstop supervision is required. The goal for the children varies, but for many of them, it is just to learn enough basics to survive.
Children on the spectrum cannot do online learning. Any hope for learning is only in person. Not just that. The lives of average parents of such children are such that any hope for them to earn a living and lead anything resembling a normal life depends critically on the children being at school for a long duration. Winnie added that some such children cannot fall back asleep if they are awakened at night, and remain awake and cranky, making hard days harder for their parents. The importance of teachers like Winnie to be there for the children to be at school, pandemic or not, is obvious and apparent.
Winnie is a parent herself. She has been vaccinated and boosted, and has been conscientious about wearing a mask at school. She explained how hard it was to be indoors with a mask all day long, except perhaps for 45 minutes during school hours when she has personal time. When the days get warm, mask wearing is excruciating, she said. The children she teaches just cannot be expected to wear masks.
Shortly after holidays this year, Winnie noticed that one of the children who had just been dropped off had a temperature. The child had to be isolated, but could not be left alone. As Winnie put it, he clung to her and that was that. It would be four hours before the parents could be reached and would return to the school to pick up their child. Winnie and her husband got Covid-19 soon after. Her own child was spared.
What I remember most about my conversation about Winnie is that not at one time did she fault the parents or the system. Her view is perhaps of a society where we take care of each other!
Please do us a favor. Next time you hear about the need to boost public school teacher salaries, support it! Next time you hear teaching staff being talked about unkindly, don’t be kind about voicing your objections. Teacher lives are far more difficult than what you and I may imagine, and teachers’ unions need our support. The least we can do is stand with them when teachers and our public schools come under attack.
Happy Mother’s Day, in advance, to Winnie, Violet, and all other mothers!
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