Podcast: Politicizing the Pandemic Means Educators Can't Fulfill Their Most Important Responsibility

An educator's first responsibility is not teaching, it's safety. But how is it possible to ensure students' safety in a politicized pandemic?


What is the primary responsibility of educators? To teach students, right? Actually, I’d say there’s something even more basic to an educator’s job than teaching—it’s ensuring the safety of their students.

I don’t talk about it much, but my first career was as an educator. I joined Teach For America out of college and I became a 6th grade science and social studies teacher in the Mississippi Delta on the Arkansas side. After that I became a middle school principal for grades 5-8.

Throughout my time as an educator, my constant and first concern was the safety of my students. Students cannot learn if they do not feel safe.

Safety includes emotional safety. That’s why any act of bullying was a “drop everything” moment in my classes. No matter what was happening, I stopped all the action so we could focus our attention on why bullying was so damaging and why it was absolutely not okay in our class or school.

No name calling, no excluding people just because you didn’t like them or what they looked like. We’re a team and bullying sabotages our success.

Beyond emotional safety, we first had to ensure the physical safety of our students. That’s why we were so careful at drop off and dismissal and during field trips. We had to ensure the bodily integrity of our students.

But in a pandemic, one that has become overtly politicized, how can educators attend to the safety of their students?

The anxiety of educators (and parents, guardians, and students) in a pandemic where wearing masks and getting a vaccine may not be an option either legally or medically can be overwhelming.

In this podcast, I reflect on my experiences as an educator and why I think safety is an educator’s first responsibility. I also share some thoughts on how we need to treat one another in an era of intense stress and anxiety.

Are you a parent, guardian, student or educator? How are you feeling right now?


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