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We are in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. The world has changed very quickly. Normally, I stick purely to financial topics. I hope you’ll forgive me a short pause while I, and we all, wrestle with our current situation.
Yes, money still matters. In fact, the financial impacts of this pandemic will be felt by many and will drive decision-making. The amount of people in our society living on the financial edge increases the challenge. Those are important factors.
Yet, writing in the moment about budgets, travel hacking, or investing seems strange. They will become important again. For now, it’s much more important to focus on health, immediate needs, and simply getting us through the moment.
It will pass. I’m confident of that. How hard it is will depend a lot on how seriously we take it, how well we consider others, and what we choose to prioritize.
I’m not going to write a lot here about the statistics and the virus itself. One of the most maddening things about this moment is watching people engage in disinformation. Intentional or unintentional.
Immeasurable damage has been done to our response because people are listening to politicians, pundits, and their cousin who once worked as an assistant in a clinic. I’ll let healthcare professionals speak about the virus itself.
There are two important things I feel compelled to mention:
Social Distancing – Do It
This is based entirely on what our health professionals recommend – not my personal opinion. Everyone should be sharing this message.
Stay home if you can. Only leave for essential needs. When you must go out, keep your distance from others, wash your hands frequently, and avoid touching as many surfaces as possible. Current guidelines allow for outdoor activities but please be aware of space and maintain distance from others.
If you believe you are invincible, that this is overblown, or that you are simply being inconvenienced, do whatever mind trick on yourself is required to change your perspective.
Possible justifications to social distance if you need more than clear guidance from our healthcare professionals:
- It’s not for you. It’s to keep others safe.
- You may carry Covid-19 back to someone in your life who is vulnerable.
- The economic impact will be lessened if we slow the spread with dramatic action.
- Refuse to be a clueless selfish jerk.
There are some great visual representations out there about how social distancing impacts the spread. Here are two of my favorite:
Please, I implore you. It’s for both personal well-being and the greater good. Practice social distancing until we are through this.
Don’t Call It “The Chinese Virus”
Speaking of the greater good, now is not the time to engage in race-baiting crap. The guidance for naming viruses is clear, and does not include geographic names. It certainly doesn’t include calling out a race of people.
I’ve seen horrific bullying instances directed towards students and families in the last month because they were Asian. As someone married to an Asian-American, I’ve personally dealt with two instances of hate speech.
You are not being “accurate” or “edgy”. You’re supporting people who want to use this moment to spread hate. Stop it. Don’t be an asshole.
Suggestions: Covid-19, Novel Coronavirus, SARS-Cov-2
I don’t approach my work as just a job. Truth is, if I simply wanted to make money there are easier ways. There are many jobs where I could make more. I know, I left one to become an educator.
I view my work as a public service. I believe in the necessity of universal public education to support a just world.
This week, my job has been about even more than education though. It’s become clear that our public school system provides our society so much more than just education. Too many structures that exist to patch our horrible social safety net are built on top of, or connected to, our public school system.
As much as I’m proud of the work we do as public educators, I wish it weren’t quite so critical to ensure basic survival for many students. Yet, here we are. Until we build a better society, I’ll do everything I can to help those who need it.
During this time, there are greater priorities than personal finance and simple provision of education. We are in a crisis – and public servants do whatever they can to help get us through it. Our health care professionals and emergency responders are most critical, but educators can do their part too.
In many states, educators will continue to be paid during school closure. This is smart because in most communities, school districts are the largest employers. It will lessen the short-term economic damage. It also makes it imperative that educators recognize this huge benefit and do what they can to help others.
I’ve never worked harder than I have during the last two weeks. I can’t pretend I love it, but it’s tied so deeply to my purpose that I’m glad to do it. These are unusual times that require us all to do our part to meet them.
I’ve always found moments of challenge bring clarity in a way that doesn’t happen when things seem easy or when I’m just working through routines. It’s one reason I’m a natural procrastinator – the extra challenge of a looming deadline gives me a surge.
I didn’t create this challenge by waiting until the last minute. Someone else did. I won’t let that stop us from responding now.
In the midst of this pandemic, my priorities are clear and different than normal. It’s also helped me see even more clearly how important personal finance is – but that’s for the future. It’s not actually important at all in the moment.
Our schools closed just over a week ago. We’ll be closed for several more – maybe for the remainder of the year. Contrary to what some may think, this doesn’t mean educators are just sitting around doing nothing.
As a school administrator, and part of our regional Covid-19 response, dealing with the immediate needs of the crisis and ensuring our education system supports the public is my immediate priority.
These are our immediate priorities, and the actions I’m focusing my time and energy on during the first phases of the closure.
Make Sure Kids Have Food
Did you know a huge percentage of kids depend on the public school system for their meals? If not – you do now.
Our first priority on closure was to build systems that ensured food distribution for students and families. We used existing systems for feeding during extended closures like spring break and summer to start. Then, we expanded them.
I’m amazed at how quickly organizations came together to scale up this system. We have school-based distribution across our region, spanning multiple school districts. We’ve all agreed that any student/family that arrives will get access to food – regardless of where they attend school.
Schools have also partnered with local food pantries and businesses to provide food backpack distribution.
We are working on building out direct-delivery to families that can’t get to the school sites or food pantries. These systems will use school district vehicles for localized and direct-delivery distribution.
This part of the response has been a source of hope and optimism for me.
Support Emergency Response
Our healthcare system will be overwhelmed. It hasn’t happened yet in our region, and hopefully we can mitigate it with proper social distancing, but we have to be prepared. Schools are doing their part.
School health rooms and supply centers have stores of critical healthcare PPE. These are being gathered and distributed to our hospitals as quickly as possible.
Our health care staff are on the front lines of dealing with this pandemic. When schools close to slow the spread, it adds an additional burden. If health care workers have to stay home to watch their children, it further weakens our system.
Schools in our region that have child care rooms, or early learning centers, are being repurposed to provide child care for essential health care workers. To make this happen we have to work with emergency coordination to identify needs, prioritize service, and develop appropriate protocols.
Mental Health Supports
If you haven’t been in schools or social service lately, you may not realize how tenuous our societal mental health is during normal times. This pandemic will overload the mental health system as much as it will overload physical health supports.
After dealing with the immediate health needs, schools will work on activating and deploying their mental health professionals as part of the overall system of support.
Provide Connection and Routine
What will instruction look like during the time of school closure? Learning is still important to our society – long term. I think it’s okay to pause a bit on the instructional rigor we’ve worked hard to implement. You’ll certainly see a pause in standardized testing.
Yet, it’s become apparent how important schools are in providing connection among people. In times of crisis, it’s also important to build some predictability into our days. It helps settle chaos and mitigate anxiety.
Teachers have an incredible role here. I’ve seen heartening stories of online class meetings where students were overjoyed to simply see their classmates. A parent shared with me how important it is that her child’s classroom has set up a regular 9am check-in. She said it changed everything after an initial week without any morning routine at home.
The answer may look different depending on systems and context. Yet, I’m working hard to build and support a system that allows for social connection and routine for our students. Teachers are rising to the occasion in incredible ways.
Finally, let’s talk about “online instruction.” Providing connection, routine, and academic related activities is not the same as providing a full schooling online.
Online instruction and distance learning are effective for some students – typically the same students that traditional schooling works easily for.
It is a greater challenge to implement robust remote education for all students. Access to technology is simply the first (though not insignificant) barrier to such an implementation. There are varied communication needs, home supports, and physical ability to interact with technology to consider.
We are first scaling up those supplemental activities to provide connection and routine. We’ll implement individual student check-ins as well.
Yet, if this is going to extend longer than a few weeks, we have significant work to do to make instruction accessible to all students and not simply exacerbate existing educational disparities.
Note: If you’re a parent and feel like you’re not getting enough from your school system now, or want to fill in even more, check out this Guide to Homeschool Resources.
I’m only going to say a little about this, because the immediate response must take priority. That said, this experience has further strengthened my resolve to support others in learning and implementing good financial practices.
I feel very fortunate that, because of my recent financial choices I can focus on a systemic response without personal anxiety.
The middle of a crisis is not the time to tell someone they should have prepared for a crisis. After we come through this (and we will!) we should start working to prepare for the next.
I am so grateful that we have an emergency fund. Money is not one of our worries right now, which allows us to focus on other priorities. That is not the case for too many of our friends and colleagues.
I’ve written too little about the importance of emergency savings. I’ve also been a bit cavalier and talked about shrinking my emergency fund, believing that typical emergencies would be predictable and short-term.
Thankfully, for reasons I won’t go into here, we entered this crisis with more cash than usual. I’ll definitely be back to advocating an emergency fund of 6 months’ expenses going forward. Building, or rebuilding, emergency funds will be a priority action for all of us coming out of this.
The tenants of financial independence are solid. Lowering expenses, saving money, and trying to build financial security separate from your job will continue to be important once we recover from this moment.
We are so fortunate that we have dramatically reduced our expenses in the past five years. Selling our too-large home, and then choosing to live mortgage free, means we have little anxiety about the future. Had this hit us just a few years ago, it would have been very different.
This is not to brag. It certainly is not to discount those who are facing incredible and immediate financial stresses. Instead, it has strengthened my resolve to support others in building a similar situation in the future.
Despite some narratives out there, financial independence conversations will be more, not less, important after this has passed. They just might look different. I’m here for that.
We will get through this. I believe that – it’s not just my 2020 push against cynicism. In times of uncertainty, it’s important that we point to a better future when we can. Hope, not false optimism, is critical.
We have faced pandemics before. We have experienced economic shocks before. The damage will be real, and it will be extensive. The world will look different on the other side. But there will be an other side.
In the meantime, my priority is to support those who are not in as fortunate a position as we are. I will do everything I can as a public servant to strengthen and support our community during this crisis. Going forward, I will continue to focus on the importance of emergency savings and building a path to financial independence.
We will come through this together. Let me know what else I can do to help, or share what you are doing in the comments below.