Monday, July 27, 2020

Retirement: There's an element of anger

I must admit that my retirement includes an element of anger that I have to analyze and put to good work. A long time ago I learned that anger actually creates a lot of energy, and if you forward that anger energy into good work, the anger subsides and you've actually accomplished something worthwhile. That's a win-win. Typically anger at home is best used for house cleaning--I've been able to complete some totally univiting projects when angered.

So what do I do with the anger that accompanies my retirement. I believe it is best used to write about what created that anger so, perhaps, someone will read it and make positive change.

Unheard; Unacknowledged
When COVID-19 struck and schools were closed, I did not listen to state- or system- leadership when they told us not to teach new curriculum and focus only on SEL. I also didn't listen to what exactly they said about what to teach or how to teach. I didn't listen because I didn't believe in what they were saying. I knew that our team had created an awesome teaching/learning infrastructure, and I knew that if we didn't continue the good work we were doing, our students would lose out. I knew our students were ready for new learning and I knew that a lot of what people were telling me to teach, my students had already learned. Too many decision makers were giving directives with a one-size-fits-all mindset, yet we had been teaching with a personalized approach all year. We knew that what's right for one student was not right for another, and when COVID-19 struck, we continued our personalized instructional focus online. We kept the momentum going and included all the typical teaching in virtual ways. It was a successful spring semester.

So when I began to listen to decision makers discuss plans for the fall, I became dismayed. It became clear that few to none noticed or understood what we did. So I wrote a number of letters filled with evidence of the good work we did as well as ideas for the fall. In general, my letters were both misunderstood and ignored. I wasn't surprised because those distanced from classroom life often ignore practioners--they often think of us as follow-the-leader workers and less educated than others. They discount our years of professional learning, multiple degrees, good educations, and experience in favor of their own perspective which often include their own school experiences and the experiences of their children.

As a big fan of teacher leadership and inclusive, holistic, collaborative education models, you can imagine that this posed a huge dilemma for me. Of course I became angry that no one listened or recognized the work my team and I did. I literally worked around the clock all spring to make the learning successful. I knew where we had to improve to make it even better, but no one really cared. And when plans were discussed, I realized more and more that I could not teach in the environments proposed--environments that were unsafe and not child-friendly--artificial environments that were more like warehouses than teaching and learning campuses. So I retired.

Fortunately, I could retire without great hardship. My children are older. I've taught for a long time, and I can afford to retire. I did take a substantial monetary hit, but I felt the money lost was worth the stress, health, and potential saved. I have a long list of pursuits to invest in, and I can begin working on that list now. 

Some of my colleagues are not in the position I am in. Some of my colleagues are afraid. They are afraid of risking their health and lives. They are afraid of what they'll do with and for their own families. They are afraid of the artificial structures they may face in the fall. They are afraid of the lack of leadership and care that exists with regard to their work as professional educators. They are afraid to speak up because they don't want to lose their jobs and their ability to provide for their loved ones. They are afraid because they don't want to subject little children to the harsh, unfriendly environments.

I can speak up for my colleagues. I can lobby and advocate for safe, inclusive, teacher/student-friendly learning during a pandemic. I can write about win-win solutions that don't put lives at risk and still promote positive, child-friendly educations. These kinds of solutions exist, and are the only good solutions for the fall and perhaps the entire year as the country faces this pandemic and works for a healthy solution. 

Anger resolved
This isn't the first time I've been angry as a teacher because I was unacknowledge, ignored, oppressed, and talked down to. Teachers know this is a major problem in the profession. The profession needs to be reimagined and reworked so that the practioners have voice and choice--so that teachers everywhere can use their good educations and love of learning and children to work with conditions for excellence and fair pay. The system I worked in had actually embraced many positive and novel systems of teacher leadership in the past few years. Conditions had improved in multiple ways. In fact, the last three years of my career were the best years of teaching for me since we had a terrific model and I worked with amazing educators. In that regard, I am going out on a high note. I love what did with and for students in those last three years and I loved the plans we had going forward. 

For some reason, though, the pandemic made people forget a lot about what good education means. They also forgot about the expertise teachers bring to the job, and the natural needs and interests of children. In a sense, I think that many decision makers have panicked rather than take a systematic, smart approach to the problem. They're obsessed with the short term situation rather than taking a long-term view. They appear to be quick to squander dollars on short-term, environmentally unsound, and educataionally defunct soultions rather than invest in solutions that have long term gain. This is worrisome. 

I understand that everyone is facing this issue for the first time and they don't know what to do, but everyone needs to take the long view and do what's right looking down the road one year, five years, and ten years. What's right includes the following:
  1. Protect lives with good safe choices and financial support for those in need
  2. Invest in education that is positive and can happen such as daily reading, writing, math practice, and social studies/science project work--this all can be done virtually
  3. Update school campuses while children are learning remotely--take that time to clean up school buildings and make the environments safer and more inviting
  4. Develop educators' ability to teach with technology at this time
  5. Support families' abilities to support their children's education
  6. Advocate for healthy, positive recreation in every community 
  7. Look for ways to provide safe, healthy social experiences for children
There continues to be so many ways to take the long term view of what's best for people in schools and communities during this pandemic. The pandemic has not only taken and injured lives, but it has laid bare society's failings--for too long, society has ignored the needs of everyday people, and a win-win solution at this time is to reimagine the ways we can support schools. health care institutions, communities, and families. That is a positive response to the problems the pandemic holds.