Divisiveness and the Education System

A couple weeks ago my hometown held a “Let Them Learn” rally in response to schools shutting down across the state. I found this slogan to be particularly odd, as if one side was fundamentally against allowing children to learn, while also implying that the learning ends outside the walls of the school, discrediting the incredible work the teachers across the country are doing. I think each person on either side of the argument surrounding pandemic education can agree that children deserve the best education possible; getting back to school safely is what everyone desires, and it is important to keep in mind how much each side cares about this. Discourse is healthy and quite necessary in huge decisions like these, however, to imply that one side does not care about the well-being and education of students is a disservice to the decision-making process as a whole. It speaks to a greater issue in the decisions within education across the country. Everyone wants students to receive the best education possible while being safe, this is not a controversial statement whatsoever. 

This week I came across two different articles relaying two very different experiences for schools during a pandemic. One conveyed the elite Boston suburb while the other Community school 55. Both Brookline and the Bronx want nothing more than educated, happy children, though the way they go about it may be different they each have the same goal. As we maneuver through the coming months it is important to focus on what everyone has in common to obtain the best education possible for children across the country.

The two articles I read are from drastically different places trying to come to the same solution of providing their students with the support and education they deserve. The New York Times highlighted the reopening of New York City’s Community School 55 and The Slate writes of Brookline, an extremely elite district outside of Boston. One of the wealthiest districts in the country has the same goals as a much larger inner-city district. Two drastically different groups grapple with the same issue, one with endless resources and the other decidedly lacking in those departments. Both share the passion and desire to allow their students to succeed in a safe environment. The resources may vary but the goals remain the same. The comparison of these two situations demonstrates the shared hopefulness surrounding our school system, a hopefulness supplied by the fact that everyone does cares so deeply and wants what is best for the students of their school.

An interesting part of these conversations surrounding reopening, especially about the wealthier district, is that the decisions are being made by those who will not be impacted by these consequences. This type of decision-making process is indicative of many throughout this country. The people making the decisions are not those who will face the potential consequences. Teachers in the NYT piece shared the possible impacts being in school may have on their families and their own well-being. The Slate highlights the peculiar lack of educators within the discussions in Brookline. I am not certain what role educators should play within this decision-making process, but to prevent the union and individual teachers from the talks does not seem productive in any way. Most people would agree that they should have some input in this important manner. Big decisions like this require experts, and they are not allowing the teaching experts to convey what they know within the walls of the school. Epidemiologists are obviously the most important perspective during a pandemic (and abundant in Brookline), and we should listen to their opinions because they are the experts we need. Just as when you are making decisions regarding classrooms, teachers should be perceived as the experts that they are. The teachers and union members were not even allowed in the meeting to decide their fate. And while the decisions are primarily for the children it is the teachers who are far more at risk than the average student. The video in the NYT article demonstrated the teacher’s obvious desire to be in the classroom, but also addressed the obvious potential dangers they fear. Regardless of what a person may believe in this particular matter, I believe the majority of people would also hope that the teachers would have a say in the matter. Not only does it affect them, but they are also most knowledgeable on the education side, a very important perspective on the decisions surrounding a school.

I hope, like everyone else, that we will be able to achieve some form of normal in the coming months and that the hard work done by every educator across the country has paid off. Everyone is working towards the same goal of reopening and hopefully that may be achieved soon. Though at times disheartening, I am choosing to have faith that our education system will make it through this difficult period more knowledgeable than before; that they will be able to walk away having acquired a greater knowledge of every student and educator within their walls. The teachers in the NYT video demonstrated passion and kindness and the desire to learn and help children, a sentiment shared by thousands of teachers across the country. No matter the state of the school system, remote or in-person, these teachers want the best for their students and that shone through in the video. The perfect scenario would be in-person, but for the time being everyone is doing what they believe is best for the students, and in discussing these factors we must acknowledge the mutual desire for the well-being of our children. In an extremely divisive time in our country it is important to remember that within the education system everyone’s goals united, and the children’s safety and education must prevail above all else.

I encourage all to read the articles I have referenced above and linked below! Please leave any thoughts you may have in the comments!

https://slate.com/human-interest/2020/12/school-reopening-teachers-unions-parents-brookline-massachusetts.html

New Testing’s Implications within Education

The trucks containing the new vaccine are traveling throughout the country along with the news and opinions swirling around it. There is a definite shift in the outlook of the next couple of months along with this news. This change will be far from immediate, and it is important to consider and continue to utilize the other solutions within pandemic education that scientists have offered in the meantime. A new vaccine that has not even begun pediatric testing is not a perfect, immediate solution and we are far from ridding ourselves from masks and social distancing. With the news of the vaccine in mind, along with potential implications on boarding schools, Jackie sent me an NPR article illuminating the future of testing and we immediately got to chatting on the benefits this will have the education system. The vaccine is coming hopefully soon and safely, but in the meantime, the new rapid testing may be just the tool that educational institutions need to make their way towards returning in person. Today I will be discussing the impact that these changes have on the schools and the educators within them.

These new tests that NPR reported on have rapid results that are extremely effective. This will change all of the procedures surrounding testing in institutions. Boarding schools will be aided drastically by this new form of testing; especially those who do not have as deep of pockets as other schools. This testing could cut their return to school process in half! The return to school included quarantine, social isolation, and testing for the schools that had the money and resources. These new at-home tests are said to be relatively affordable and extremely rapid and effective, which will make them much more accessible for schools that didn’t have the testing necessary to be safe in the fall. Having this ability to test quickly and accurately will change the school’s protocol and allow for a safer and more enjoyable time on campus. This past fall schools participated in an intense and time-consuming process to ensure the safety of staff and students.

The new tests may shorten and ease this lengthy process that occurred in the fall. Many schools will be able to administer these tests, when before some schools did not have resources or money to access enough testing for staff and students. Schools will be able to administer these tests within the campuses allowing for a greater grasp on the virus and its effect at the school. This type of testing will give control to many schools that lacked it in the past two semesters. It is anticipated to be available as early as this spring and I am hopeful of the impact it will have on schools, especially boarding schools and colleges.

Colleges are another group that will also benefit greatly from these new rapid tests. My college was fortunate to have the funds to be able to provide an abundance of tests for students and staff, and with these new tests, this will be possible for every college across the country. This will give all schools a better chance of having the in-person classes that their students desire and deserve. Boarding schools and colleges can certainly be hotspots for disease and the ability to have effective results promptly will allow greater knowledge and control over the virus within the school.

While the future of this young vaccine is not certain, these tests provide an important fallback and allow for greater control of people and student’s health. These rapid tests will be beneficial for everyone, but the impact on the education system will be immediate. Boarding schools and colleges will be able to return and, hopefully, remain on campus for the remainder of the school year with the new tests. The pandemic is not solved with the wave of a wand, but these tests are going to be a huge part of the solution leading up to our hopeful return to normalcy. Making way towards normalcy it is important to utilize the tools and strategies given to us by those who know best; the new rapid tests, staying masked and social distancing are all key parts to the elusive solution the country desires. Providing the tests to places like schools will be an important first step in controlling the pandemic and allowing students to return to the education they deserve. This has been an undeniably difficult year for most people across the world, and it is extremely heartening to have this small piece of good news that will have a widespread positive impact, especially on our education system.

Thank you for reading and please leave any thoughts below!

https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/11/17/936055284/fda-approves-first-at-home-coronavirus-test

The Shifting Role of Caregivers

The new reality created within the household by the pandemic allows for a dynamic that hasn’t existed prior to remote learning. The roles in every household have shifted according to these unprecedented times. With children at home and some family members there in whatever form as well, there is a shift no matter familial circumstances. Siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or whoever else may be in student’s lives, have acquired a larger role during the pandemic, they have been forced to take on much more than in the past. Along with this change comes an inherent shift in actual relationships, a fascinating difference within these unprecedented times. The word caregiver seems much better suited now more than ever when referring to a student’s support system, as other parts of the family or circle of people the student has are able to step up.

Siblings have played a much different part in the household than previous school years. Whether it be making sure their brother or sister get to their Zoom on time or helping with homework that used to have been done with classmates or friends, many siblings have stepped up in unique and amazing ways. Many parents are at work or working from home and in their absence,  someone has to take their place. Those who are lucky enough, have siblings who are willing to adapt to a new role. This is an interesting shift in relationships for households across the country and something to be considered in the aftermath of the pandemic. I even see this support in the students I am currently working with, they are able to give each other help on their assignments.

Parents have also obviously had to step up in more ways than can be counted. Those who do so have been vital in the journey of remote education. They are also hopefully gaining a fuller perspective of education and just how much responsibility teachers have along the way. The teachers I have been fortunate enough to speak to have expressed hopefulness that the parents have gained a new respect for what they do and just how much work goes into everyday learning. Teachers are only able to accomplish so much through the screen and the difference needs to be made up in some other form. That difference is much more difficult to make up in some households compared to others. When parents can be of support in any way, they allow for the students to succeed under these difficult circumstances. Once again, I recognize that this is unfortunately not possible for a large number of families across the country, and this lack of support system at home only exacerbates the ever present academic gap reflect through socioeconomic statuses. 

Relationships within households are ever-changing and as we are spending an abundance of our time in homes with family, the roles continue to shift. In the context of education, the roles have become even more important, and varied, than ever. They differ drastically between families and the impact on children depends on the ability of the family to adapt. Family plays an important part of education under normal circumstances and this is amplified within the pandemic. Family dynamics are imperative when considering the impact, the pandemic has on education. Student’s help from home does not, and sometimes cannot, come from parents; caregivers come in many forms and it is thanks to these caregivers that many students are able to succeed. This is not the case in all households, and it is important to acknowledge this, but it is also important to acknowledge and applaud the many caregivers who are able to allow students to succeed from home.

Thank you for reading and please leave any thoughts below!

Be Kind

Throughout my work on this blog, I have read many articles and found countless resources on education during a pandemic, each allowing me a unique perspective and providing a fuller understanding of education as a whole. Social media has been another key tool in my comprehension of the reality of teaching during these times. I saw a Tweet the other day essentially stating that while there have been many valid fears of children falling behind academically, framing it in such a way only relays part of the story. These children aren’t simply ‘falling behind’, they are surviving a pandemic, we all are surviving a pandemic and to put it any other way would be a disservice to yourself and everyone in the education system. Parents, students, teachers, education assistants, and every single person within the school are working with what they have. Giving the best you have is truly all that can be done right now. Every student and educator is a survivor and should be proud of what can be achieved under the circumstances.

There is an apparent sense of dreariness plaguing our nation and undoubtedly touching our school system. Teachers and students should of course continue to learn and grow together, but it would be naïve to believe that the pace and information will be the same as years in the past. Comprehending this is important in adjusting expectations for ourselves and others. Just getting through each day is a huge accomplishment for many and it is important to acknowledge this and allow for victories no matter how small to be celebrated. 

I was reminded of the importance when I saw a sign during one of my many walks in my time in Alaska. It was outside the elementary school I passed every morning and it simply stated “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do everything that you can.” Though the words are simple, the meaning is anything but. Especially within the context of an elementary school where the students haven’t roamed the halls for many months. They are yearning for normalcy while acknowledging reality. All we can truly ask of anyone right now is as much as they can give and that varies greatly from person to person. Use whatever tools you can, give your all, but it is also okay if that is not as much as usual. We are all in over our heads and all we can focus on is keeping our head above water.

Protecting yourself and your health is vital during this times. It’s not easy on anyone right now and educators are facing the brunt of it along with their students. It is okay to have to take space from work and obligations, everything appears much greater and scarier at this point in time. It is normal to not achieve what you might have earlier in the year. Teachers are trying their best just as their students are doing the very best they can. This year has been draining, to say the least, and without an end in sight, there is a heaviness weighing on our brothers and sisters across the country. This wears down everyone and recognizing the weight allows for giving grace to oneself and those around you.  

Remember to be kind to yourself and that the best you can give right now might not be the same as the best you gave at this time last year. It is imperative for everyone to take care of themselves now more than ever. Be proud of what you accomplish no matter how small it may seem. Importance and normalcy were lost long ago, and the definitions have shifted to our new normal and every individual must create new definitions for their transformed reality.

Thank you for reading and please leave any thoughts below!

Toll on Teachers

The month of November is proving to be the inevitable second wave that the country has been anticipating since the summer. As the actual disease is spreading rapidly the consequences of its existence expand far past the front lines. The pandemic has taken a toll on every American in some type of way. It has ripped apart our reality and we are surviving in the rubble. Educators have faced the brunt of this disease in more ways than others. There is an obvious desire to be in the classroom with students that is combated by prioritizing the health and safety of their students and themselves. Education is an incredibly powerful part of our society and our educators are right in the middle of this storm.

Educators’ safety is put at risk far more than most students simply because of their age. It is well documented that COVID-19 has a far worse impact on those in a higher age bracket. The students’ safety is obviously the priority for many, but the teachers are the ones who we are truly protecting. Everyone deserves to be safe in their working environment and that remains true here. Schools can be a mess of germs and children. It is well known in your first year in schools often the teachers get far sicker than any other year, sickness spreads fast in schools under normal circumstances. It is simply easy to fall ill in school buildings and while masks help tremendously there is only so much protection offered, especially when the cases outside of the classroom are growing so tremendously.

Beyond the obvious safety concerns, there are also many other aspects of the pandemic in which educators are struggling. The curriculum is another huge part of a teacher’s job, it is their entire world in the classroom; the blueprint that keeps the ship going. Teachers have worked incredibly hard on their specific curriculum and when these unprecedented changes hit there is just no way to truly prepare. As schools around the country are returning to remote, some far more rapidly than others, these changes are still hitting educators hard. Even with every preparation, they may have made there is no way to prepare in the manner needed to have whatever type of success in their classroom.

Safety and education are the top priority for most teachers, especially right now, but there is another layer surrounding educators’ enjoyment and emotional well-being. This remote learning takes away a lot of the true joys of teaching. Even when safety is the top priority, it is still okay to acknowledge just how difficult this has been and just how much it has changed education as a whole. The entire profession has flipped and there is no telling when it and if it will return to normal. This hits especially hard for teachers that have been in this profession for years. Everything they have achieved has been on a different platform and to have to drastically change everything you have ever known late in your career can take a toll on anyone. There is a definite sense of hopelessness within this realm of teachers. Our educator’s worlds have shifted along with our own and it has been truly difficult for most.

These teachers are the staples of our country, they are shaping the youth that will go on to live in the wreckage of this pandemic. They have been doing their best in whatever way they can and suffering because of it. The stress is heavy and the teachers have been bearing it for months. As schools are shutting down again across the country, planned or unplanned it is extremely difficult to make this drastic transition. This is not why they became teachers. The loss of connection and livelihood of the classroom is truly that, a loss. It is impossible to quantify the impact it has had or will have on these teachers. While their roles may be shifting their importance is does not. Make sure and thank your educators today and every day.

Thank you for reading and please leave any thoughts below!