If you thought the close of the 2019/2020 school year was unusual, just wait for the beginning, middle and end of the 2020/2021 year! No stakeholders are going to recognize their roles in regard to school this year. Parents are in the process of making decisions about their children’s educational environments without full information. Students are starved for face-to-face contact with peers, as they realize the limitations of social media. The US economy has come to the startling realization that academics are just one function of schools. And teachers. Teachers are going to reinvent teaching once again as we correct issues that were duct-taped together last spring.
Here is my outline of what must be better in schools this year along with my proposals for improvements.
Students need a reasonable number of classes. My 8thgraders had 7 to 8 classes to keep up with last spring. When I called students to find out how I could help them when I saw them falling behind, I discovered they were working on some classes at the expense of others. A student with three different technology classes could never get to his math or his English. I tried to meet with students in small groups to help them prioritize their workloads. They were overwhelmed and ill equipped to make decisions about how much time to spend on an assignment. They got behind and soon saw no point in working to catch up. This cannot happen this year. We, as the adults in the room, must make this process manageable for learners. Students should have only 4 to 5 classes. If a student wants an elective class, it should be just that – elective. This recommendation stands whether schools are online, face-to-face or a hybrid. This is a temporary measure. Not permanent. (I know we must have arts and technology and physical education, but right now, we need to get our students to read and write on grade-level, or at the very least, at pre-Covid-19 levels.)
You may question, if student have only 4 to 5 courses, will such a plan would lead to an excess of elective teachers? Certainly not. Those teachers have experiences and relationships with students that must be utilized in general core education classes if students are going to be able to make up for lost learning from last year and move forward with grade-level content. This is true regardless of the medium of education. We need all teachers focused the same goal, to get education back on track, not teachers fighting for one course to have priority over another.
In a face-to-face class situation, multiple teachers will be required for each core class as the class size will be too large to fit in a single classroom. A second teacher will be needed, not a monitor. A teacher—a trained, licensed educator. I do not worry about content knowledge. That can be acquired, or rather reacquired. These teachers are college educated. I am confident they can quickly grasp 8thgrade concepts. And, they can learn right along with the students if need be. Adults by their very nature can learn more quickly than middle-schoolers. Adults can share their sincere joy of learning with the students. The adults can also bring a perspective to the learning that can benefit the learning process in the class. Teachers by nature are lifelong learners. They love to learn and share that learning. That can benefit students in ways that I could never do by myself. This is a job I would only trust to my colleagues that are already in the building. I do not need an assistant. I need an equal partner.
The same holds if classes are held entirely online. Any teacher with experience from last spring will tell you that it takes much more time to prepare for online class than it does for face-to-face class. It also takes longer to provide students with individual, quality feedback. It takes longer to facilitate constructive discussions among learners. Having multiple teachers with varied areas of expertise in content and technology can bring the entire online educational experience to another level entirely. There will be a synergistic affect that will benefit teachers and students alike. Again, I do not need an assistant. I need a peer who has skin in the game to help bring our learners to where they need to be so they may move forward with deftness and alacrity.
And what if the classes are hybrid? The amount of work required on the part of teachers to conduct a hybrid model is a daunting thought. If half of the students are learning at home three days a week and in school two days a week and then the halves switch, a single teacher cannot prepare, conduct, and provide feedback under two entirely different educational mediums in a single day, let alone four out of five days. The amount of preparation, monitoring, support, feedback, assessing, grading, reteaching, follow-up, parent contact, documentation, research and planning required for one course is staggering. One adult simply cannot successfully sustain this any period of time. It will take a team of motivated, committed, trusted teachers to accomplish this. I know of no better teachers to rise to this challenge than the elective teachers with whom I have worked over the past 14 years. They are committed, intelligent, and trusted. All educators must be utilized to help our students at this time. This is when we must come together and show what we can do.
I heard a school board member say at last week’s meeting that elective teachers would not go for a model that put them in general education classrooms. I think the school board members expect that these teachers would be monitors rather than teachers. Teachers are teachers and want what is best for student learning. These specially, intentionally placed teachers are not being devalued. On the contrary, they are being revalued. They are what can help right this wronged situation in which education now finds itself. We would be doing our students a disservice if we placed monitors with them in annexed classrooms rather than driven, qualified, quality teachers. Motivated adults can acquire content knowledge quickly. The expertise that a qualified teacher brings to a class comes with experience.
There is not time, money or space to hold school safely to a pre-March 13th standard. Teachers must work together for the benefit of society to get the education ship righted sooner rather than later. The better our educational system is, the better the economy will be. We must remember that we are helping build the creators of this world who will go on to be great leaders, inventors, and scientists; great writers, problem solvers, artists, and thinkers. I get a sense from neighbors, the small town newspaper, local and national news broadcasts, Facebook “friends” and users of Twitter that teachers are being vilified for their concern about returning to a physical classroom. Teachers know what makes a classroom a successful place to learn. A classroom has students learning and working together. It has teachers challenging and scaffolding students as these learners construct their own knowledge and understandings. Putting students into classrooms, spaced six feet apart, under vigilant monitoring to keep learners from following their instincts to get close to one another; to share thinking as well as supplies; to be stuck in the same room all day long as teachers move from room to room, this sounds miserable for all parties. Nobody wants to be back in the classroom more than teachers. We want to do what we do as teachers and have students do what they do as learners, but the traditional look of that is not safe at this point in time. It will not be safe for quite a while. I do not like these facts, but I must accept them. I must be able to move forward productively for the benefit of my students. Posterity is counting on us.
As I was drafting this post, I ran across this Tweet from @MathDenisNJ. Thanks Denis.
“no one can deny the benefits of in-person learning”–everyone who wants to reopen schools.— Denis Sheeran (@MathDenisNJ) July 31, 2020
“Taking kids, spreading them at least 6 feet apart, putting them behind masks and desk shields and not letting their teacher or peers go anywhere near them is NOT in person learning”–ME