Another option is for Rachel to accept a private contract to teach a pod of children in one of the new pop-up schools cropping up in wealthier communities. Parents who have the financial means are founding startup schools to implement their own stringent safety standards. Small pods of children are assigned to one teacher. Parents, children, and teachers are self-quarantined in a safe circle to create a mock tight-knit family unit with minimal outside contact. The children get the advantage of staying on track, or even excelling academically, while the exposure to virus is next to nil.
Rachel can’t bring herself to accept a private contract. While the money might be good and the risks of contracting COVID-19 are lessened, it undermines why she became a teacher in the first place—to give children who ordinarily would not have had opportunity in life a fair shot. “My kids need to be in school,” Rachel says, “but I don’t believe we should do the hybrid model.” She leans toward creating safe circles within public schools the same model being privately created by wealthy parents. Small groups of children can be assigned to one teacher. Parents, children, and teachers are in a safe circle. “We would take every teacher in the district who is available, and we should access every single space in the school and across the district to create our own safe circles.” The one ingredient missing from implementing a safe-circle model in the public schools is money.
Being on the front lines of a pandemic is something Rachel didn’t bargain for, but her passion for teaching manifests itself as a supreme act of stewardship. In her own words, she says, “One day her children may not remember me, but it’s not about me. It’s about them.” As a teacher of first-graders, Rachel Baucom is their launch into the world, offering them a chance to grow, to flourish and to have a good life.
She always returns to the kids, the sound of their laughter, how their eyes light up when they discover something new for the first time. “I really believe my job might kill me,” she says. But for now the kids are her life. She knows the risks of being in the classroom, but if she teaches remotely, she loses the collective mindshare of her kids during the most formative years of their lives. She knows the kids are hurting already because they haven’t been able to be together and are suffering from loneliness, boredom and depression. Already there is trauma to deal with—fallout from the pandemic. People are getting sick, loved ones have been lost, but Rachel Baucom has the gift to guide her children just the same way she tends her garden, “You’re doing one thing and finding another...discovering the hidden joys beneath the surface – and that’s a metaphor for life....”