I have read some very thoughtful posts from a variety of voices about heading back to school as teachers. Here are a few I really valued reading: Lara Sandora on her blog, Deb Perelman in the NYTimes and this note by Mitch Lingo shared on a friend’s facebook.
And then I go in other places online, and I get dizzy with the ways in which people are throwing around “student potential” and “productivity” as the hallmarks of a school system. Many of these same parents are the ones trying to streamline courses for their students to take the highest level of math humanly possible (and paying for summer classes so that their student can succeed in math the following year because they ALREADY WERE TAUGHT THE CONTENT). My guard immediately goes up and I am done reading. I have asked myself why I shut down – I’ve decided it is that the ways in which people talk about this decision matters. The assumptions loaded into people’s comments belie some realities about how our public school system is built on the principles of community but functioning to serve the pressures of individualism. Community focus puts the needs of the whole before others (i.e. compulsory, free education for all) ; Individualism puts the individual first (Who can get into the “best” college? How many APs do you have? Advanced this, advanced that… I can go on)
I read about this Community/Individual tension a lot in essays and books about Culturally Responsive Teaching, but I look at it through new eyes in the discussions about back to school in Fall. Most teachers, certainly the successful ones, think of their students before themselves EVERY DAY. Part of being a successful teacher is parking your ego at the door. So, when parents don’t acknowledge that underpaid teachers are already trying to sustain the broken model of public education when they ask them to do more, teachers react. It is the step too far.
In the community where my children go to school, I hear parents worrying about our kids getting behind… my question is behind what? We are all flying blind. This has never been done. And public schools are certainly not funded well enough to do it well and protect teachers effectively. If your student is struggling, so are most kids. If you are worried about future competition from the kid next door whose family got them a tutor and who is in advanced something-or-other. you need to step back and evaluate your priorities. We need to help preserve our kids’ mental health – and school is an important part of that- but the idea that schools have the money and resources to truly protect the teachers is naive. If there is any moment where we can truly rebuild culture around the value and benefit of public education – this is that moment.
How are we valuing what matters most for building community rather than just what is serving our individual children? We are isolated in our homes right now and it is easiest to thing of just what works for our household, but that is why we, as the adults in the family who vote for our school boards and pay taxes to fund these schools, have to take those steps to think about the community that our children will be going back into once in-person schooling is again able to be taken for granted. If we don’t think of everyone, the schools will be even more broken than before. Do you want your child to have the best opportunities possible? Consider how they can work together and how adaptive you are teaching them to be? How are you modeling working together? How are you encouraging them to do their best even under difficult circumstances?
And, thinking of everyone who need their children to be back in school so they can work a minimum wage job to barely put a roof over their heads or so that their child can get lunches, we need to do better by you. In the end, this and mental wellness will be the reason many districts go back. But, when the conversation becomes about performance and learning, all I can hear is the assumption that someone else’s job matters more than the teacher’s well being. Your job is hard to do when your kid is around. I get it. So is mine. But I’m expected to do it without complaint because I’m a teacher.
My kid is really struggling in distance learning, but I am uneasy about asking elementary teachers to put themselves at risk because it is easier than the work I need to help her through this difficult time. I don’t know what we will decide – she has significant needs that are best met in person, but we don’t want to stress her out with the procedures and systems that will be necessary to keep her safe at school when she goes. As for me, I will do what is asked – my administration is bending over backward to serve the teachers, families and communities that our students come from. I know the choice they will make will be based on the fact that we can work together to do what is best for the kids and keep the teachers’ families safe. It doesn’t mean I’m not stressed. But, it is where we are right now.
I guess what it comes down to in this rant is that I am so tired of people not being required to think about what they say/post in public forums about all aspects of life. We are asking our children to be agile critical thinkers and innovators who incorporate ideas and challenge their assumptions, and yet we so frequently don’t do those things they desperately need to see.
I feel better for getting it off my chest, but it’s a long road ahead…