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Mommy Won’t Be Home For a While

April 4, 2010

image from La Cronica de Mexicali

It seems that recently, including today, the earth just can’t stop shaking.  This afternoon we felt the effects of the Mexicali earthquake, almost 220 miles away, clearly and strongly here in Los Angeles.  Coincidentally, the LAUSD middle school where I work has had Emergency Preparedness as our topic of professional development twice in the last month.  As a native Californian, I have heard this spiel many times, and it always looms in the back of your mind.  But its getting harder to ignore the signs that the earth is getting ready to release some energy around this part of the world.  And we’d better be ready.

Which leads me to the difficult (and overdue) conversation I had with my daughter today.

See, as public servants, teachers are designated as Disaster Service Workers, according to the California Government Code, Section 3100.  When emergencies happen, we don’t get to come home to our own children.  We stay at work and take care of yours.

And as it should be.  Part of the social contract of our society is that our government will take care of its citizens, and as teachers, we ensure that contract is fulfilled by directing our students to safety during an earthquake, conducting search and rescue operations in the school afterward, comforting our distressed students, and guarding and protecting them until their parents can come pick them up.  Teachers are not allowed to leave the campus until the safety of all children is ensured.

With the earth shaking in China, Haiti, Peru, and now Mexico, and with the Big One long overdue in California, I realized that The Talk with my daughter had to take place immediately.

I explained to my daughter that in the case of an emergency, she wouldn’t be hearing from me for a while.  “Telephones will probably be down, so don’t get scared if we don’t talk for a while.  It just means Mommy is doing her job.  You are to stay at your school until Daddy or Uncle can come get you.  If no one comes quickly, you may have to wait a few days for me.  But don’t worry; your own teachers will be there to take care of you.”   I guess that was the upside; if the earthquake happens during school time, she will be in good hands.  Nonetheless, the thought of not knowing if my child has survived the prognosticated 8.0 temblor strikes me with a terror only a parent can have.  As a teacher, I cannot give in to the terror.

Sometimes the conversation about teachers and their duties focuses solely on academics.  But any teacher will tell you that the scope of our responsibilities is substantial.   As mandated reporters, we are taught to recognize and report evidence of child abuse and sexual abuse.  We are sometimes caught in the middle of custody battles and student mental health issues.   In areas of gang violence, we are sometimes physically injured by troubled youth.  And in the case of a major earthquake, we sacrifice knowing whether our own loved ones are safe and secure until the very last of our students has gone home.

I’m glad to know my colleagues across town will be doing the same thing I am; I trust the system to work.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 5, 2010 6:19 am

    This was a really powerful post, Martha, and one that I know will stay with me for a long time as I mull over its own impact on my resentment about this regulation.

    I know what our duty is, and I don’t like it. I care for my students, I sweat and bleed for them. And what teacher has not thought to themselves the what-if questions of how they would handle the gunman or the natural disaster.

    And of course it is a rule that I will follow. But I also think that my resentment grows when I see teachers leave early on department meeting days or refuse to come to parent meetings because they assume that there are others of us who will do their work and make sacrifices for them.

    In an eventual earthquake, I guess I wish that we had provisions in place that would allow some of us time to leave, pick up our own children, see them safe and then return. I guess in my emergency preparedness fantasy, there are different kinds of small groups formed other that the search and rescue or entertaining the kids or First Aid stations that are typically set up. In mine, we’ve differentiated from teachers who can afford to stay longer and those who must return to their own lives, even if only temporarily.

    Like everything in education, I am confused about the cut-and-dryness of this rule. I am confused about the three days or so we must remain, rather than consolidate, checking teachers out when fewer kids remain to be cared for. As always with education, it’s sacrifice for others even at the expense of yourself. That’s fine. It’s what I signed up for.

    But just because I signed up for it, doesn’t mean I don’t believe it should be reformed.

    -Heather Wolpert-Gawron

    • April 6, 2010 8:47 pm

      Heather, this rule is not often discussed for its merits or deficiencies because it gets stored away in the back of our minds as we go through our regular teaching days at work. It is not until an emergency hits that we remember that we aren’t going anywhere. It is unclear as to whether we leave when our own students are accounted for, or when a certain percentage remain.

      As a teacher in a hard to staff school, thoughts about not coming home have always been a part of my career. We have had guns and gunmen on campus, and murders and drive-bys occurring less than 50 feet from the school. I guess it is a choice you make when you decide that no one else is in line to make a difference in these kids’ lives.

      But I hear what you are saying…it is difficult when colleagues don’t pull their weight. But isn’t that in every profession? It can get frustrating, so I try not to focus on that.

      Thanks for your comment!

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