Trezanay M. Atkins, J.D.
I won’t lie - I was skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccine when it was initially announced. At the time, very few people had received it, there was no way to ensure 100% effectiveness, and there was no way to know if I would experience side effects. Despite my apprehension, I knew that, if this was how I could have my students back in my classroom, I would take it without hesitation. I began to get excited. Maybe, just maybe, there was a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
My heart dropped when I first heard that teachers were no longer a vaccination priority in the eyes or policies of Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb. It’s difficult to express the toll that constant hopelessness, powerlessness, and frustration takes. This year has been brutal for students and teachers. I know my students deserve nothing but the best, and I work tirelessly to meet their needs – many of which are extensive. I show up, and I teach, and I hold space for them every day, and that is no different during a pandemic. They are the reason I persevere, and they are the reason I find so much joy and fulfillment in this work. I love my job and I love my students, and even so, the last semester completely drained me. It is so hard to support the needs of twenty other humans when you are stuck out on an island with no one supporting you.
My students endure the same frustration and exhaustion, and it shows in their engagement and their achievement. I want nothing more than to see them grow into their boundless potential, but they are also completely drained. We need to see them, and they need to see us. We need to connect again. We need to be back in the classroom, but we have to be back in the safest way possible. If our government is unwilling to close bars and restaurants to slow community spread, then we need to vaccinate teachers. Like it or not, teachers are frontline workers in this pandemic.
We are there every single day; – we make sure students are safe, we guide them through mental health crises, we take in their frustration and their anger and we turn it into an opportunity to learn and grow. We celebrate their triumphs and support them in their losses. We teach them the content and the skills that will prepare them for the rest of their lives. We nurture students and care for them in ways that no one else can. But we are also human beings; – we are terrified about catching this virus or transmitting it to our loved ones. If I were vaccinated, all of my students could come back to my classroom safely, and they could have the stability and the security that they need to actually learn something. Families could go to work without stressing out about their child’s education. We could finally build the relationships that are so hard to cultivate through a tiny Zoom window. We could make up for all that lost time and get back to the business of learning, discovering, and growing – together.