‘I quit teaching because the school was risking our health.’

Published August 26, 2020, 7:26 PM

by Carissa Nanagas Encarnacion

No matter all the safety protocols and health benefits a school provides, no one should be asked to risk the lives of their loved ones, just to keep their jobs.

The author

Working as a high school teaching assistant in a certain international school for nine years was both a privilege and a pleasure; and the school had become the company I had worked for the longest and loved the most. 

I recently resigned, however, because of different directions the school and I chose regarding risk factors during this pandemic. To begin with, I think it is a waste of time and gas to drive to and from school, only to teach online via Zoom, which is something I can easily do at home. It doesn’t make sense to be on campus to teach if it is “online learning,” hence the term “online.” More important, it is an additional unnecessary risk to go to campus when the drive to school can further expose me to the virus whether I drive a private vehicle or take public transportation because commuting involves being in an enclosed space with strangers for a prolonged period of time; and driving privately entails stops for gas and/or checkpoints. 

We don’t have control over the actions of co-commuters, gas attendants, etc, or whom we might encounter along the way.  With the chances of picking up the virus on the way to school, I am increasing the chances of spreading it to my co-workers or anyone in school. While the school’s health and safety protocols are truly admirable, we don’t have control over the safety protocols of the commute of people and in their own home or if they even have some. 

The author, wearing her “online daily classes” shirt

On campus, we don’t know who among the school’s employees follow the school’s protocols and who easily forgets. All it takes is one careless action of a carrier to spread the virus in school. Take the case of teacher Noberto Rodillas, “Unang nagka-COVID-19 ang ate ni Rodillas, na isa ring guro at pumapasok noon para ihanda ang mga module para sa nalalapit na pagbubukas ng klase” (ABS-CBN News, Aug. 14, 2020). 

More recently, current DepEd undersecretary for administration, Alain Pascua reported that as of 6 p.m. on Aug. 18, “a total of 748 DepEd personnel and learners (including the Central Office) have been confirmed to be Covid-19 positive.” 

As you can see, we don’t know who among us can bring the virus to our office spaces, which we can, in turn, bring home to our own families— senior parents, children, immunocompromised family members who might not be able to handle the virus well. And I have two seniors, one diabetic, and two hypertensives within my family. This shows that we are not all riding the same boat in this pandemic wave. Some of us might be on a yacht, having it easier with private cars, widely spaced residences, and young, healthy family members. Some of us, however, might be just barely hanging on to a raft as they take the public commute, live in crowded residences, and have health-compromised family members. With the different situations teachers are in, schools should give the WFH option to teachers, as there are those who are exposed more or are more vulnerable. Another reason why the WFH option should be given to teachers is because online teaching, module distribution, and the likes are possible, thus making campus presence less necessary. Even if the school offered to pay for and provide the masks, face shields, testing, and hospitalizations, all these only matter if you and/or  your family member survives Covid-19; and this does not include the trauma of being unable to breathe, all alone in an isolation room, adding strain to our already exhausted frontliners. 

Every time we step out of our home, it is a gamble, especially when we have no control of the actions or sense of responsibility of others. No matter all the safety protocols and health benefits a school provides, no one should be asked to risk the lives of their loved ones, just to keep their jobs. The school surely knows how much money they have in their bank account but do they know how much time we have left on this earth, especially when we unnecessarily expose ourselves to the virus when it could have been avoided? 

In this pandemic, it is one’s moral contribution to society to help stop the spread of the virus by working from home when possible. Sadly, the school could have done that but chose not to. I felt that I had no choice but to resign from a school that I had dearly loved.

I don’t regret my decision because no job is worth putting my loved ones in danger by being the only family member to go out and break our family’s safety protocols because I was not given the work from home option when it was very much feasible. 

Whenever I am questioned or challenged by others who think otherwise about my decision to resign, all I do is take a look at the faces of my family members, and I don’t even have to say why I know I made the right decision. Do I worry about the future, my finances? Yes, but I think most Filipinos are compassionate and resilient; and will be able to adjust financially otherwise. 

I am not judging the school for their actions because who am I to judge? But I, as a teaching assistant, owe it at least to students, parents, teachers, and other school personnel to speak up, so that they may rethink the choices that they make.  

All I can hope for is that with this written, no teacher will ever be put in the same situation as I was, having to choose between career and health and family. I cannot make decisions for everyone but all I can say is never compromise your life values, priorities, and principles but rather now is the time to think what they really are. 

Carissa Nanagas Encarnacion was a high school teacher for an international school based in Taguig, Philippines.