Ankylosing Spondylitis

From a Teacher with Ankylosing Spondylitis…

To whom it may concern-

I get it. I really get it.

I know there are students in every one of my classes that are struggling despite my best efforts. I know there are kids with D’s and F’s because learning at home can be really hard. I promise that I care so much about each and every one of them and I want to do everything I can to help them succeed…

But I can’t be asked to make the choice between student learning and my own health and safety.

(I mean- I guess I can be asked to do that because it’s the reality of what is happening right now…but it’s absolutely killing me.)

I have an autoimmune disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis, and the medication to treat it (and to slow progression and allow me to maintain mobility) compromises my immune system. I get sick more easily than most- meaning I can catch COVID-19 more easily than most. In the middle of this crazy pandemic, I was asked to make the choice to leave my job, or return to school with students at half capacity and a guaranteed 6’ of social distancing. After sleepless nights, lots of tears, and what felt like an impossible choice, I decided that I loved my job and my students so much that I would take the risk.

I returned to school to teach, and armed myself with face masks, hand sanitizer, and honest but blunt conversations with students about new classroom norms meant to keep all of us safe. I’ve made it the last 6 months without contracting COVID-19, and with the recent release of the Pfizer, Moderna, and new J&J vaccines I felt like I was finally in the home stretch. Then, all of a sudden, the rush to get all of the kids back in classrooms at full capacity hit. A rush to fill classrooms before teachers even have the opportunity to be vaccinated. A rush, with only a few months left of school, to end hybrid and virtual learning. We’ll have to decrease social distancing to 3’ maximum…but we’ve been healthy so far, so it’ll be fine! Or at least that’s what I’m told.

My fears of catching COVID haven’t gone away, and trying to figure out how I’m going to handle a classroom (and a classroom with no windows at that) full of students sitting *basically* right next to one another and circulating the potentially COVID-ridden air is severely weighing on me. I’m on emotional overload. Last week I cried over a breakfast muffin…

The last few weeks I’ve been a mess of anxious thoughts, fear for my health, frustration at my local government, and endless worry. I’m honestly at my breaking point. How can I keep myself safe and healthy with students crammed into my classroom? Will my students even feel safe so close to their peers? How can I try to grapple with ignoring current CDC guidance, and convince myself that I’ll be ok?

I don’t think I can.

I don’t fall under the current list of health concerns allowing me to get a COVID vaccine in my state, so I am anxiously and patiently just worrying and waiting for my turn to come.

Can we please prioritize vaccinations for people with autoimmune diseases? Can we please prioritize vaccinations for teachers? Selfishly- can we please please prioritize vaccinations for teachers WITH autoimmune diseases? Or can we at least stop pushing and pushing to get our schools open at full capacity until more vaccines are available to more of the population?

I’m scared. I’m tired. I’m torn between my health and the best interests of my kids. I need more support. I need 6’ of space around me. I need to feel secure to be able to effectively do my job. I really really need a vaccine.

But as I patiently wait, and continue doing my absolute best to not only teach science, but emotionally support my students more than I have ever needed to, please stop pushing. A pandemic can’t end if we rush back to normal. We’ll get out of this *soon*…but we need to work together to do it.

All my best,

An immunocompromised high school teacher

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