Laura Mitchell: Dear Teachers, you are fighting for your own redundancy

While COVID-19 has made some parents more appreciative of teachers, for Calgary stay-at-home mom Laura Mitchell, the infighting is shaking her faith in the public school system

Sunday March 15, 2020 was the day that will live on in history as the day that education as we knew it ended. My family gathered around the television and watched Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Chief Medical Officer, and Alberta’s Education Minister, Adriana LaGrange, announce that the province would shutter every in-class lesson in the province until at least September. The Alberta Teachers' Association have spent their time since then raising concerns about school safety and warning about their right to refuse to return to work.

The closings commenced, and the silence began. For three weeks, parents heard almost nothing from the Calgary Board of Education as we transitioned to online learning. To pass the time, parents like me snapped up the workbooks at Costco, or dusted off the ones that had been languishing in the junk drawer since last September. We settled our shell-shocked kids at the table with freshly baked cookies and we hit the books.

After spring break, the first course materials trickled in from the highly paid experts and, well — look teachers, I mean you no disrespect here, and I get you need to teach to maybe not the lowest, but the near-lowest-common denominator — but the materials available for $10.00 at Costco are infinitely superior to the crap you sent home.

As I coaxed more and more skills out of my first and seventh graders in the safety and comfort of my living room in our pajamas with unlimited coffee, my confidence grew. I can do this. With shit I bought at Costco.

And it isn’t just workbooks. As I scoured my home for materials to enrich the lives of my bored children, I found the following other shit I bought at Big Box stores over the years: atlases, a microscope, classic novels, chemistry set, Meccano.

So here’s the reality, publicly paid teachers — I can fulfill the entirety of the Alberta curriculum to ninth grade with shit I bought at Costco. I won’t even get into what you can get at Chapters and Amazon. Sorry, public education. It’s been a slice.

I’m not here to opine on the merits of masks or distancing or the politics or non-politics of reopening. As a stay-at-home mom, I made sacrifices to prioritize the sanctity and peace of my home. So I really couldn’t care less what the teachers' unions, or our local schools, or our public-health authorities decide about what's going to happen in September.

I come from a line of badass one-room Irish schoolhouse marms from rural Ontario. In fact, the table I now gather my kids at once belonged to my grandmother. She was one of these schoolteachers. It is almost poetic. 

And here is our real dirty secret, public school teachers — I’m not alone. There will be others at my table in September. A 2020 suburban version of a pioneer schoolhouse on the dusty prairie is taking shape right now. With brownies and tea. We may not all homeschool full time. Hell, I might not. We all have days we want the kids out of our hair and need a babysitter. But what we all agree on is that if we are forced to do online school again, we won’t do it alone. It was hard on all of us, especially our children.

On March 15, and in the days following, the teachers of Alberta and elsewhere in the Western world made a snap decision to manage their pandemic response. In doing so, they declared their own in-class expertise non-essential. 

The parents of your students who worked at grocery stores, or picked up the garbage, or went into people’s homes to install better WiFi so our kids to do online school — they all had to go to work. Teachers sat at home. Again, I am not opining on the merits of this or whether it should have happened. But it did. Our governments made the declaration. 

Actions have consequences. The province's decision in March, made in the urgent fear of the unknown, laid a course of events that caused many industrious moms of the students you are paid to teach realize they can, and maybe should, do this themselves. In Alberta, the funds follow the student.

There is a lot of Fighting Through Media over what classrooms look will look like and who will fund extra resources. I’m sure lots of threats will be made to cut the resources for the disabled kids — one of whom is my son — because hey, it makes a great headline and scares the shit out of everyone. All this infighting is encouraging me to make that decision for you. Neat, hey?

The more drama you all create over the next six months, the more parents with means or sheer force of will may quietly opt out of the public-school system. When COVID is over, and teachers re-enter their classrooms expecting a grateful bobble of students and parents, do not be surprised when my children are not there. 

Craving a break from the pressure of raising and educating your children while also holding down a full-time job at home? We can help with that (or at least keep you entertained and engaged). Check out this Andrew Potter column, which asks perhaps the most critical question facing our nation today: how did we end up with such dumb leaders? And speaking of dumb, please check out this useful note we prepared for those who seem to think that threatening to sue the pants off someone who libels you is an assault on free speech. Spoiler: no, it’s not.

Hey, if we’re cool enough for Margaret Atwood, after all, what’s the harm in reading a bit more? If you like what you see, please share and subscribe. We’re just getting started.