Saturday, August 1, 2020

This Retired Teacher's Concerns by Glen Brown

This is a letter to retired teachers who have been uninterested, disinterested or indifferent to the injustices inflicted on our teaching profession: such as the retired teachers who ignored the assaults on our pensions but benefited, nonetheless, because of retired activists who fought indefatigably to safeguard our constitutionally-guaranteed right to a defined-benefit retirement income. These retired teachers who ignored the onslaughts on our pensions still disappoint me.

But this is primarily a letter to retired teachers who knowingly disregard the current crisis that teachers confront this fall and most likely next spring because of the dangerous Covid-19 pandemic.

Let me begin by asking them a few questions:

Where is your concern for current teachers (who, by the way, are funding your pension)? Have you forgotten or lost your love and respect for what teachers do each day? Is it because of your callous self-absorption or self-regard, or is it your indolence and complicity that make you uninterested, disinterested or indifferent?

I want to know where is your protest against the dangers of reopening schools in a pandemic? Where is your outrage? Where is your moral courage? Where is your sensibility and compassion? Where is your sense of community and sense of duty? Where is your responsibility and solidarity with today's teachers? 

I want to believe it is not because you are just too damn busy enjoying your retirement to care about the prevailing and serious quandary that current teachers contend with right now.

Of course, I presume many of you could have health issues, vulnerabilities, or other responsibilities; nevertheless, many working teachers have medical problems, susceptibilities, and other obligations as well.

Now, imagine you are a teacher today:

You are afraid that you cannot teach effectively because you are afraid: You are afraid of contracting the coronavirus and infecting your family and others. You are afraid of your students contracting the coronavirus and infecting their families. You are afraid for students who ride buses and for bus drivers who bring them to school and home each day.

You are afraid that frequent hand-washing is impossible for students to do throughout the entire day. You are afraid there is not enough space in your classroom for proper distancing. You are afraid social distancing and wearing cloth masks for hours is impossible for students. You are afraid of students eating lunches without masks, passing in hallways, and congregating in bathrooms or by their lockers. You are afraid your students cannot safely "socialize" in a pandemic despite the irrational push to send them to school. You are afraid some parents will undermine your safety concerns ("This pandemic is a political hoax").

You are afraid of airborne transmission of the coronavirus that thrives indoors, especially in closed spaces. You are afraid the windows cannot be opened or will not be opened in inclement weather. You are afraid your school's ventilation system is antiquated or poor (where "air is not properly filtered, diluted and exchanged"); that the HVAC system has not been upgraded and will easily spread the coronavirus. You are afraid that every surface in your school will not be sanitized each day.

You are afraid your school will have insufficient Personal Protective Equipment to keep everyone healthy and safe, such as portable HEPA air purifiers for each room, N-95 masks, Nitrile gloves, face shields, Clorox wipes, hand sanitizers..

You are afraid you will not be able to tell the difference between the symptoms of the coronavirus and the flu, or the difference between the coronavirus and the common cold, or the difference between the coronavirus and common allergies. You are afraid of asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus.

You are afraid your school cannot guarantee everyone’s health and safety through reliable and consistent testing and contact tracing. You are afraid there are not enough nurses and custodians for each school. You are afraid administrators and the school board lack the expertise to determine health and safety measures for students, teachers and staff. 

You are afraid of the blatant incompetence of some of your administrators, the risky agenda of the school board, and the selfish irrational priorities of many parents in your school district. You are afraid for your students’ lives. You are afraid of dying needlessly for the U.S economy.

You would be afraid too.

Until this country has a unified and coherent federal, state and local strategy; until the federal government increases its funding for health and safety for all schools across this nation; until there is federal funding for parents to assist with their at-home childcare and technology and federal funding to feed disadvantaged children; until business entrepreneurs and the Trump administration (and not the schools!) solve the false choice they have created for parents of school-age children—all schools and universities across this nation should open only on online this fall and not until this pandemic is totally under control!

Furthermore, until the morons among us stop spreading misinformation and conspiracies because of their own gullibility and ignorance; until the Creons among us cease their stubbornness and spitefulness; until the pathological narcissists among us end their gas-lighting, this unabated coronavirus will continue to proliferate, and thousands of Americans will die.

-Glen Brown
Retired Teacher


  1. Recently, I talked to a younger gal who I used to teach with and now she has returned to the classroom and I asked her about going back into the classroom. She's very afraid. She's afraid of bringing something home to her 4 sons and husband! She would prefer designing lessons virtually until a vaccine is given to everyone.
    Your blog reminded me, Glen, when the fight over the pension had consumed about 4 years of our lives and also experienced being upset with those teachers who sat on the sidelines in silence! Yes, it was infuriating! I pointed out to a couple retired teacher friends that this was not about us who had already retired, it was about being able to hire really good teachers for Illinois in the future who would like a defined benefit.

    Even when K-12, on-line stay-at-home learning company, came to 28 school boards up and down the valley out this way to sell their wares. That effort garnered a few more teachers but only because they were still teaching and it would have impacted them personally.

    But, the biggest and longest pension fight by far was the the most painful period of time for us! I guess those teachers just wanted to have their lunches, go shopping and dismiss going to a rally in a show of solidarity, writing letters, making some phone calls to their legislators.

    Just so you know.....I have never forgotten the names of the pension "warriors" and I just told a new retired teacher friend just a couple days ago the names of those who saved the pension from the greed of the corporations.....Glen Brown, Fred Klonsky, Ken Previti, Roger Sanders and John Dillon who were the main fabulous 5 and then there was Todd Mertz and Dave Madsen who were a huge support. I will never forget any of these names and I'm not even a big pension earner. But, I believe that a promise is a promise and as it turned out, so did the Illinois Supreme Court!!! I wish the best to everyone I named above!

    1. And Bob Lyons, Bob Zahniser and many others!

    2. Joni,

      I began defending our pensions on March 11, 2011. It consumed me until May 8, 2015. Nonetheless, I wrote this warning that day when the Illinois Supreme Court ruled 7 - 0 in our favor:

      ...Challenges lie ahead for current public employees, retirees and their families, and for every citizen of Illinois. These facts have not changed: there are liars and thieves among us who will continue to choose which contracts to honor and which ones to violate in the future.

      We know they will attempt another legislative thievery of our benefits and rights again. Thus, we must continue our vigilance. Most importantly, we must continue our resistance against the dishonest politicians and their mendacious accomplices, such as members of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, the Civic Federation, Illinois Policy Institute, and their ilk.

      We know corrupt legislators will pass laws for their own advantage. We should recall that despite their pledges, the legislators’ criteria for justice are their considerations for what is expedient for them—their re-elections to remain in power and wealth.

      We must never become complacent in our belief that justice exists for those who simply “fight the good fight”; nor should we become indifferent to political power and what exorbitant wealth can buy: a “democracy on the auction block, subject to the highest bidder” (Bill Moyers).

      It will still be up to us to protect what we have earned for our life’s labor by opposing the next attacks from the Illinois General Assembly, the Civic Committee, the Civic Federation, Illinois Policy Institute, and their purchased media. We must continue to defend our dignity with stubborn resolve.

      We are intrinsically bound to one another in this regard. As Martin Luther King eloquently stated, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” We must urge our unions’ leadership to be absolutely prepared to defend our pension benefits and rights without apologies, without concessions, and without compromise.

  2. I am a current teacher and we are scheduled to return to school after Labor Day. It will be a hybrid schedule and I know my administration has purchased PPE, cleaning supplies and partitions. Students will be on an A/B schedule with everyone remote on Wednesdays so that a "deep cleaning" mid week can happen. I am still quite afraid. I am afraid of obviously catching this virus and transmitting it to my family. I am afraid for my Middle School students. Can they sit in the same classroom all day? Will they be able to wear a mask? Will fear be instilled in them? Will they have to mourn the death of a friend or teacher who died because of the virus? Scary times indeed.

  3. Many Thanks to you and those named above. I am glad of how this group thinks and acts. I am happy to note that many, many whom I worked with are on board against the COVID stupidity. In fact almost all are. The one exception I know of is a retired teacher related to me by marriage, and I have never understood her take on these things with her teaching background and relationship to children. Keep up the good work!