Thoughts On Schools Reopening During a Pandemic

There is a commonly used saying that goes, “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill”. This expression has been living in my mind the past few weeks as I’ve watched Chicago Public Schools roll out their reopening plan for our staff and students. As teachers and staff have voiced their fears and concerns, the district has attempted to paint us as obstinate and selfish; our concerns and fears made out to be frivolous and unfounded. We are, in their eyes, making mountains out of molehills.

I would like to offer an alternative interpretation to this idiom.

I have taught middle school Social Studies for the last four years with no curriculum, save a collection of crumbling, outdated, and whitewashed textbooks that served no purpose except to point out the deep flaws in the way history is approached by large textbook companies. I have had to create curriculum from scratch for an entire content area, and I know that I am not alone in this. But, as all teachers know, we must make mountains out of molehills.

I currently also teach Reading, and in my classroom I have students who read at a range of 2nd grade to high school levels, all in the same room. Reading interventions that should have happened at crucial points in student development did not due to the austere budgets our schools have to work with. Seventh grade curriculum is adapted to meet the needs of my learners in ways that would leave other districts dizzy. My classroom is not singular in this experience. But we make mountains out of molehills to serve our students, helping them grow from where they are.

I spend hours upon hours resourcing books from Chicago Public Libraries, driving from one library to another to collect enough books to have a whole set. Once I have maxed out the number of books I can check out on my personal library card, I use a picture of my co-teacher’s card to check out more so that I can ensure students have quality choices to hopefully develop in them a deep love of reading. My building has a beautiful, well stocked library, but with no librarian, it sits mostly empty, save for staff meetings and the occasional class visit where our clerk assists us with checking out books, taking time away from her other duties. We make mountains out of molehills.

For other resources, we make DonorsChoose pages, where we must plead with our family, friends, and kind strangers on the internet to invest in our kids, whose pictures we must show on our page to hopefully tug at heartstrings. And when those projects are funded (and they so often are, thanks to amazingly generous people), we ask our students to write thank you notes to people they have never met for resources they should have had from the start. We make mountains out of molehills.

And now, in a time when we have lost so much, and we see death and suffering in the news, and in the emails our students send us letting us know a family member has become sick or passed away, we are being asked to not only create a mountain out of a molehill, we are being asked to climb the mountain without the equipment we know we need to keep each other safe. We are being asked to sacrifice not only our safety, and the safety of our own families and the families we serve, but we are also being asked to buy into a belief that our concerns and fears are petulant and ridiculous. I am not sure how many more mountains I have left in me to build.