I'm not a very reactive person, at least not quickly. I tend to hang back, collect information, and take time to process before responding--especially in times of stress. So, here I am now, nearly three weeks into this new way of life--this new way of teaching--just now responding.
And my opinion probably won't be the popular one. But it's my truest one.
If we’re not returning May 1, the powers that be just need to declare the school year done. Over. No more virtual learning. Not because I'm a lazy employee. Not because I don't care about the education of our kids. But rather because I care--about our kids, our families, our teachers, and the integrity of what we're calling education
We've all been thrown into an impossible situation and the stress of virtual teaching & learning is compounding what might be the most traumatic time any of us have experienced. We talk about how students can't learn when they feel unsafe--when their brains are in fight/flight/freeze mode--yet amid reports of escalating deaths & diminishing resources we introduce an entirely new way of operating with little to no training, and expect that--somehow--the result will defy what we know is academically and emotionally sound.
Quality learning CAN NOT HAPPEN in these circumstances, when we are fearing for the lives of our family members, ourselves, and our own children. Why do grammar rules or fractions or the water cycle matter when I don't even know if all my family and friends will make it out of this time alive?
This virtual schooling is creating stress on kids who have no idea what the hell is going on and why their lives are suddenly turned upside down; why they can no longer see their friends and extended family; why the grown-ups in their lives are so edgy and cry so often. It's creating stress on parents who are trying to take care of those kids AND work from home AND, without training, suddenly become teachers. And the actual teachers, especially those who are also moms, attempting to juggle 2+ teaching jobs...well, it simply doesn't work, at least not well.
It's as if our kids and teachers have been thrown into the pool before they've had a swimming lesson and, as they're flailing, the higher-ups yell out "be safe...take care of yourself...we care about you! But swim faster, okay?" The only reason teachers aren't jumping out of the pool is because they do what they've traditionally done for years--put up with nearly impossible standards and situations for the kids. The kids who, in this case, are trying to keep their heads above water right there with them. If we bail, the kids might think they can bail, too. If we bail, we abandon our kids at a difficult time. And we'll damn near drown before we do that.
This whole situation has cast a big light on the chasm between the "haves" and the "have-nots", not just in regard to teachers' abilities to adapt to new ways of teaching, but in terms of students' abilities to adapt to new ways of learning and their access to resources. Not every child lives in a home that's conducive to learning, or that's even safe for that matter. Even if access to technology isn't an issue, some parents simply aren't able to help their child the way others can, whether due to their own lack of education, a language barrier, or a myriad other reasons.
So, what is the argument for continuing? Is it that we can't lose precious instructional days? Why then is it acceptable then for them to be lost over 8-10 weeks of summer year after year? I know this will probably be an unpopular opinion, but I say send me back early next year and cut my summer short if you have to. But now--in the most stressful time of my life--let me focus on keeping my family and myself okay; let me focus on surviving this. Let the kids make up the days when their heads can be in the game & the playing field can be level for them and us.
Now, if the concern is over teachers and other school staff making up the days so pay and benefits can be justified, then that's a whole different, more deeply-rooted issue that needs to be reexamined. The concept of teachers having to hustle to constantly prove their worth is nothing new. The message is and has often been "do this nearly impossible thing--and do it well--or you may lose your job and the benefits your family depends upon". And so we do it, not just for the kids, but because we look around at the unemployment rate right now and the crashing economy and we're scared.
Some of you may be thinking "we're all scared of losing our jobs--stop complaining, at least you have one!" And that's a valid point now, but for the teaching profession that sentiment is nothing new--this perception of a largely female workforce "complaining" rather than advocating has been around for decades & is the reason we've fought so long for fairer pay as demands have increased. It's a soapbox for another time, but here's the point: if teachers and other school staff were to have these days waived without losing the benefits their families depend upon, maybe it would go a long way toward helping these professionals feel respected. Perhaps this is an opportunity for reparation.
Reparation is defined as "the action of repairing something". As I see it, the educational system is one that has been in need of repair on many levels and it's as if this entire situation has put a magnifying glass on the beliefs and practices that have been in disrepair for some time. We are an industry that likes to build the plane while flying it; we are reactive rather than thoughtfully proactive, giving in to the pressure of the public by acting as if we're ready before we really are, which is exactly the opposite of what we want to teach our kids to do under stress. Rather than pause for just a moment and allow ourselves the time and space to put together a thoughtful plan of action during an unprecedented time of crisis, the system scrambles and pays the price with ever-changing platforms and unnecessary stress and confusion for teachers and learners (not to mention the parents helping).
One of my mentors says that, as a mother, she wants to be a model for her kids, not a martyr. Maybe, in this case, we need to rethink what doing it "for the kids" looks like. Maybe what we should model for the kids is not going along with what we know isn't best practice but instead voicing, as professionals, what's needed for them and for us. Perhaps what we need to model is to not scramble hastily, but to be still and choose wisely where to best focus our energy. And I'd say during this unprecedented, tragic period of time what we need to focus on most is to simply come through the other side of this okay...
...to focus on showing our kids care; attention; calm; a lighter load
...to put our money where our mouth is when it comes to the social-emotional well-being we claim to care so much about
...to show them that yes, we do care deeply about their education, and it's because we value it so highly that we won't offer them a makeshift version and call it the same thing
...that, while education is important, we care more deeply about them as people and want them to put their safety and well-being first.
And the same goes for our teachers. The ones that, sadly, it took a global pandemic and society coming to a halt in order to fully appreciate.
As a very temporary solution, virtual learning can get us through a short time, and I recognize and appreciate the great efforts our school districts have made to help do just that. But Florida has yet to see our peak of covid-19 and if teachers, families, and students are overwhelmed now, I can't imagine the weeks to come. This would be a rare opportunity for the education system, often dogged as one that fails to value their teachers and students' needs beyond academics, to press the restart button; to reprioritize and start a new and better beginning after this all passes.
For the well-being of everyone, for the sake of quality instruction over simply saying we put in our days...let's cut our losses and call it a year. It's not throwing in the towel--it's throwing a life preserver to the teachers, parents, & students who are drowning when they need it most.
The opinions expressed in this article are mine only and are not representative of my school or coworkers.
I'm Krissy & I'm so thankful you're here. Being a woman, a wife, a mother--it's all rewarding but also tough. I hope this is a place you can go that feels like caffeine for the soul. Check out the categories below and, if you like what you read, subscribe to make sure you always have good Sunday morning reading to go with your coffee :)