It Shouldn’t Take a Global Pandemic...But It Did
This year’s Teacher Appreciation Week seems to hold so much more weight and power. The beautiful gestures by students, parents, and other educators are extremely moving, and given all that is going on, they are just hitting real differently this year. There is a greater sense of love & appreciation for the work that teachers do and have done, respect & admiration for their flexibility & ability to at least ATTEMPT to revamp everything they’ve learned and done to keep some sense of normalcy for their students, and a deeper understanding of the power of their role in children’s lives.
That being said, it shouldn't take a pandemic to fully realize and publicly acknowledge the power of educators. It shouldn't take a pandemic to put more trust and faith in teachers' expertise and allow them more creative freedom to construct dynamic learning experiences for their students. It shouldn't take a pandemic for the various educational tech and online resources to make their sites and memberships more accessible and user-friendly so a wider range of educators can utilize them to transform their educational practices. It shouldn't take a pandemic for large segments of society to stop referring to teachers as "glorified baby sitters" and acknowledge how integral their role in students' daily realities and the development of their sense of self/view of the world. It shouldn't take a pandemic for states to realize that it wasn't the state testing and teacher evaluations that motivate teachers and hold them accountable. It shouldn't take a pandemic to realize that educating is about more than delivering content, but also about developing and attending to ALL aspects of a child, and teachers have the, sometimes impossible task of doing this for 15-100+ unique individuals PER DAY, PER YEAR. It shouldn't take a pandemic for teachers to feel like they're finally being heard when discussing the things that aren't working--have NEVER worked in the system and made doing their job so much more difficult. It shouldn't take a pandemic to realize that these issues disproportionately impact teachers of color and those working in schools and neighborhoods predominantly students that are Black, Latinx and/or living in low-income areas.
Digging deeper, it ALSO shouldn't take a pandemic to bring social inequities like the
digital divide, disproportionate allocations of financial and instructional resources, and other health disparities directly impacting and impacted by educational disparities to the forefront of public conversation. It shouldn't take a pandemic for teachers, administrators, and policymakers to acknowledge what grades and testing are REALLY assessing (privilege...for those who were still unsure...it's mostly privilege). It shouldn't take a pandemic for schools and educators to realize that stronger partnerships with parents/families create more cohesive and supportive learning experiences for students and should be prioritized. It shouldn't take a global pandemic to honestly acknowledge that the cultural knowledge & experiences and daily lived realities of so many of today's youth, and disproportionately Black and/or Latinx youth or those living in low-income areas, are being silenced, marginalized or otherwise ignored or denigrated and eradicated within the dominant curricular designs, instructional practices & education policies.
Even further, it shouldn't take a pandemic for colleges/universities to reassess their admissions requirements, which have led to and perpetuated inequitable access to higher education for populations of color and those living in low-income areas. It shouldn't take a pandemic to realize that higher ed and K-12 need to communicate and collaborate more effectively and more often to help close the gap between research, theory, and practice. It shouldn't take a pandemic for a system and a nation to finally feel like THIS is the moment we can admit we haven't done all we could to address the issues that have been staring us in the face all along. It shouldn't take a pandemic for us to realize that SCHOOLING requires the building, but EDUCATION can take place anywhere.
But, sadly, it DID take a pandemic. It took a global pandemic to shake up the entire world, our nation, and our education system. It took a pandemic to make people question what they used to find normal, effective, and necessary. It took a pandemic for new voices to rise to the top, and be listened to more closely, because they were the ones who were ALREADY skilled in and advocating for the type of socio-emotional, interpersonal, tech-rich, humanizing ideologies and practices necessary to shift practices in a way that met BOTH the academic and emotional needs of students, educators, AND parents/families.
Now, as talk of flattening curves, reassuring data, and reopening states flood news broadcasts and social media feeds, the question is what will happen once the pandemic is behind us? Will we all go back to "normal" and slip back into the safety and security of our pre-pandemic comfort zones, OR will we use this time to deeply explore the role we've played in supporting and perpetuating a system that was designed to leave some behind? Will we finally listen to the voices that have been SHOUTING at the top of their lungs that we can and need to do better? The voices of critical researchers, dedicated to, and in many cases identifying with/as members of historically marginalized and disenfranchised communities. The voices of educators of color who have experienced the systemic dysfunction on BOTH sides of the coin. The voices of today's students & their families who have marched and protested alongside educators, and in some cases against educators, when their needs were being unheard and unmet. And, in some cases, our own individual voices, which we quickly shushed in school-wide meetings, district meetings, fundraising events, parent/teacher conferences, grad school classes, dinner parties, and more for any number of reasons that we now can't find a way to justify in the midst of all that is going on. My hope is that we won't just fall back in line and continue trudging along making baby steps of change that keep us comfortable because we can honestly say things are "better than they used to be". My hope is that even though it shouldn't take a pandemic, the fact that it did will light a collective fire and breathe new life into this system that for many has felt like it's been standing still.