How To Talk To Kids About The Coronavirus

It’s something we all must do.

As an educator, I’m given the luck and privilege to teach kids and tell them about the Coronavirus.

As an Asian-American educator in an inner-city environment, unfortunately I get comments about the Coronavirus that aren’t the most respectful.

“Stay away from me, Mr. Fan! You got the Coronavirus!”

“Why your people bring the Coronavirus over?”

These are comments despite me being born in the United States and spending all of my life in America, I have to remind kids that these comments are disrespectful and that they shouldn’t go up to any person of Asian descent and make those comments.

However, I get where the fear is coming from, even if it is unfounded, and I wouldn’t be in the job in the first place if I didn’t have thick skin. If jokes about the Coronavirus were the worst I experienced on a daily basis, I would have a pretty easy job relative to what I do encounter.

Talking to kids about the Coronavirus has my own pitfalls, too. We’ve talked about how the Coronavirus is just a variation of the flu, with no vaccine. When kids tell me it’s no problem, I ask them if they have grandparents. I ask them if very young children live in the family, and talk to them about how people with compromised immune systems are most at risk for the Coronavirus. Most of my kids have grandparents who they’re scared might get the Coronavirus, so they stopped making a lot of the jokes they did.

In addition, we talked about safe practices to keep students healthy and safe. We talked about not touching our faces. We talked about washing our hands and disinfecting surfaces. We talked about not coming to school if we’re sick.

In all of this, a part of me is glad that the Coronavirus is giving myself and my students something to connect and talk about. But I do know that these conversations come at a cost — the WHO has just declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic.

I have joked with friends and co-workers about school closing down and us having a vacation for the Coronavirus. I am stressed out every single day dealing with the mounting obligations and behaviors of kids, but I do know that in many school districts, and especially a district like mine in Baltimore City, which is high poverty and high need, that schools give kids a place to go and be fed. No matter how much our days seem to fail as a teacher where I wonder if my kids actually learned anything, schools give kids a place to be cared for.

In New York City, 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. My district has a universal free lunch program that serves breakfast and lunch for the kids.

A lot of parents work full-time, and have to rely on taking time off of work during snow days or if schools were closed for the Coronavirus. Especially since many jobs don’t offer time off, a lot of parents will be left scrambling if schools close.

For a parent, it’s hard to take care of a child while working at the same time. Not everyone has someone to watch their kids. Not everyone can find a babysitter.

What would be the solution for child care if schools were to close? For me, I think it’s irresponsible for a district to close without offering a plan. Who’s going to take care of kids? Who’s going to make sure they get a meal?

“For a large number of our students, the safest place for them to be is actually in school…Closing schools is the last resort,” said our school CEO, Sonja Santelises.

When Oklahoma City teachers participated in teacher walkouts and strikes, the school system sent out buses to deliver sacked lunches where low-income kids could avoid going hungry when schools weren’t operating. Obviously, it’s a different challenge with the Coronavirus, since the idea is not to have large groups of people congregating in a small space in a given amount of time.

According to Taryn Morrissey, a professor at American University, “paid sick leave and paid family leave” are key for families to deal with school closures effectively.

I, however, am just one teacher, and these problems are systemic, and a lot bigger than just me. I worry and survive day-to-day in the classroom, and that often means that I don’t worry that much about the Coronavirus. My students probably don’t, either, which is something that allows us to joke about it.

Until it comes where we are, until it comes to Baltimore, the Coronavirus doesn’t seem like the most pressing of our problems. It may be a global health crisis, but the deepest problems always seem at home.

For my students, that often means the simple things. How are they going to get food? How are they going to get home? How are they going to avoid the violence in the city? I don’t want to speak for my kids, but I wish for a world where kids didn’t have to worry about these things on a daily basis.

So I don’t blame my kids for not taking the Coronavirus seriously. But it’s something that’s come up in my classroom, and it’s important to talk about because it’s in the news, and a lot of people are dying and getting sick. And I want my kids to protect themselves, and be aware of the ways to keep themselves protected and avoid getting the Coronavirus if it comes up in Baltimore.

I feel bad more so about making jokes with my co-workers and students about the possibility of Coronavirus closing down the schools, being well-aware that school is the safest place a lot of kids feel, that if a school closes down, it creates an extra burden on parents and kids that isn’t always fair.

My fight may be a different fight than a lot of more wealthy school districts or colleges right now, but talking with kids about the Coronavirus is something all of us must do, no matter how distant it seems.

Believer, Baltimore City special ed teacher, and 2:40 marathon runner. Diehard fan of “The Wire.” Email: Support me:

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