Teachers are Among Our Essential Workers

One of the things we miss the most during this Covid nightmare is teachers. They have always been the unsung social workers of the neighborhoods.  As a kid growing up in Far Rockaway, I learned that from my mother, a fifth-grade teacher who practiced her own version of tough love both in the classroom and at home. Though she stood at only four-foot-ten, she took charge of her classroom like a sergeant, but deep down she was really a softhearted and caring woman.
One morning, I opened my eyes to find my mother rummaging in my closet. She held up a plaid wool skirt and announced that she hadn’t seen me wear that skirt in a long time, which was reason enough for her to confiscate it. Then, before I could resist, she had sat down at the edge of my bed to tell me about some poor child in her class at PS-52 in Queens whose family needed help. How did she know that? Well, her school was in a poor working community where families had many kids and few resources. If a kid didn’t show up for class for more than, let’s say, three days, my mother would get in her chariot and go to the kid’s house to find out why. We used to worry about this, but she probably saved many lives. She was the eldest of three, grew up on the Lower East Side, became a teacher, and lost her mother shortly after. As a young girl, she took charge of her ten-year-old brother.  Quite a beginning for a young girl of 20, but probably not entirely unusual for many of her generation growing up in hard times. That’s why I believe teachers are essential frontline workers in our communities: they are critical to our recovery.