Throughout my teaching career, I was disappointed that educators did not have greater leadership capacity. Typically when decisions were made for us, those decisions were never as good as decisions made with us. The pandemic has shined an ugly light on professional disregard since in many situations educators have been left out of the discussion and plans for the school year during a pandemic. Many conversations have not only disregarded educators' voices, but the discussions have left out educators' safety too. No matter what kind of commitment you made to schools, students, and systems, what appears to matter most to many decision makers is that you are a body in a room to provide childcare during the pandemic. It is very sad to see the profession face this crisis--the poor leadership of the past has become the destructive leadership of the present. This is a sad reality for educators, students, schools, and communities across the country.
Thursday, August 13, 2020
I suspect that I'll reflect on this decision throughout the next year at significant school-related times. I still find it difficult to imagine how I could go from 100 to 0 in a matter of days when it came to my investment in classroom teaching. It seems like on a Monday I was 100% all-in for the school year ahead and by Friday, I had decided to end my teaching career. I didn't imagine the end this way--I thought it would be a more gradual change.
Why such a dramatic change in short time?
There's no denying that the pandemic threat of illness and potential death was the single greatest determinant in this decision. I have too much to look forward to and too much that I want to do to put myself in harm's way at this time. I want to avoid sickness and death as much as possible in the days ahead.
The pandemic response by decision makers at school also led to my decision. I thought of many ways to teach well during a pandemic, but my voice was hardly considered--I had little to no say in what would happen. That worried me as to return to school with no leadership or say about my work would make my work suffocating and frustrating at best. I could not go back under those circumstances.
34 Years Later
It's also true that I've taught for 34 years. I essentially worked around the clock for most of those 34-years trying to perfect my craft and education programs in ways that helped children become skilled, informed, and inspired lifelong learners. I loved the creativity involved in this work, and I was excited about every moment that a program resulted in student engagement, empowerment, and awesome education. I am happy about my career's efforts and focus. Last year, despite the pandemic, was one of the best teaching years in my career--so much of what I studied and imagined to be an excellent teaching/learning program occurred last year. The year ahead's limitations would prohibit almost everything that I believe connects to awesome teaching and learning--I could not put myself in that position at this time. I would be too frustrated, and I would literally have to work too much to be satisfied with what I could do. I'm sure that if I was a younger teacher, I would have made it work because my family relied on my salary during those years, and I had to work. Now, due to my age and years of service, I could retire.
Called in a New Direction
I tend to listen to the signs all around me and within me when I make a decision. I do believe that we get signs and nudges from the universe as to where we should travel. I have listened to and heeded those signs throughout my life with no regret. I remember when my husband of 32 years called me from across the country at 5 a.m. one morning long before we were married--I saw that call as a sign. Also early life love of children and enthusiasm about school were the signs that led me to teaching. I tell my children that they were dreams before they were born, and that's true, I dreamed of having children from my earliest days--I always wanted to be a mother. And more specifically, usually all the activities I forwarded in school were inspired from the world around me including the news, nature, science, the teaching community, the children's words and expressions. This decision too has been informed by the world around me including my 90-year-old parents who I desire to spend more time with, my sons who I want to see and support more, my home which I want to update and improve, and the world which I want to contribute to in new and valuable ways.
It's sad to say goodbye to the school community. There's a bit of guilt at jumping ship during this difficult time in school life, but I'm confident that the school I left is in the great hands of talented, creative, and committed educators. Most changes in my life have been more gradual and expected. This is perhaps the first big change that has been more spontaneous and unexpected, but overall, the change is right. I am excited to see what the next steps will bring.
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Everywhere I look, there are discussions about how to do school in the fall of 2020 during a pandemic. My advice is to decide in a way that leaves you with the least amount of regrets.
Personally, since I have underlying health conditions that put me at risk of grave illness or dying, I opted to retire. I also opted to retire because as one colleague noted I could not run a "COVID classroom." I know that good learning does not involve tight rows, little to no contact, and a teacher teaching solely fromt the front of the classroom.
To me, most of the discussions by decision makers are about warehousing children so their parents can get on with their lives and work. I don't believe that a good education is about warehousing children, but instead a good education is about giving students the experiences, skills, knowledge, and concepts necessary to live good lives and support a free country.
If I were in charge of the world, my first choice would be safety. Children can make up a year of school, but they can't make up a lost life.
If I were in charge of the world, I would help families to support their children's good living and learning at home with childcare stipends and community supports to make this a reality until we get a vaccine. Work places can help out too by making centers for safe childcare at work to help parents who want to work.
I would also support schools' ability to foster robust remote learning in sensitive, creative, and positive ways to help families and others continue children's educations in effective ways. Educators are well skilled to do that work, and fortunately the technology exists to allow educators to lead those programs.
Many school systems, communities, and states will not make good decisions. Some will have regrets. With this in mind, families, teachers, and students will have to put their own safety first and do what they can to make as safe as possible a year.
Bottom line, children are natural learners. If a child reads or listens to at least one well-chosen book a week (or one picture book a day), signs onto Khan Academy and does the math exercises at their level, watches good documentaries about social studies topics, explores the natural world outside and via experiments with household items (there are a zillion of these online), socializes with a small pod of friends and family members, and researches and creates creative presentations related to their questions and topics of interest, that child will make substantial gains in learning.
As I've noted multiple times, the pandemic has laid the inequity and problems of society bare. There are many, many positive ways we can respond to this to make our communities and the nation as a whole stronger. But first, everyone has to look out for their personal safety and the safety of their communities. Everyone should operate so that they have few to no regrets during this relatively short-term problem. You can do this.
Saturday, August 08, 2020
The pandemic has laid bare society's inequalities and long neglected organizations and instituations. Sadly, we see this reality in education in multiple ways.
Teachers left out of the narrative
Too many educators have been left out of decision making conversations and choices in significant ways. Instead, many who are not teaching/learning experts, have been leading the narrative for schools in the fall. This is frightening since many of those individuals don't understand learning with a modern lens and real experiences thus too many of the stories I read and hear don't represent what it means to teach well. Instead many narratives are more about warehousing children--this is very sad, but not surprising since the Trump team shows little regard for children in general.
Instead of focusing on what it means to be healthy and well-educated, most of the priorities focus on how to warehouse children with the fewest number of deaths or grave illnesses. This is a deficit model, not a strengths model for learning. This appears to support the Trump team's will to keep a servant class in the United States--a class that does the service work with few to no supports that helps those people live and rise up in healthy and positive ways.
Private takeover of public education
Privateers are seeing this poor education management as an opportunity to make money. In so many ways, public schools systems are responding to privateers' glitzy, cost-saving messages. These privateers don't represent significant skill or investment in good education, but instead a mediocre-at-best response to systems' needs for remote education, school building/tech quick-fixes, and pass-the-buck-solutions. Too often, public school leaders and decision makers are attracted to the slick marketing, low costs, and empty promises of privateers in education who are out to make a quick buck without any true concern about deep and valuable education.
Denial of the real issues
As I listen to many decision makers discuss education in the fall, they appear to ignore the science behind this pandemic and they don't take the pandemic risks seriously. They also ignore the social issues that this pandemic lays bare. I wish that decision makers and leaders would look for the promise in the pandemic with the following questions:
- How can we use this time to uplift families, schools, and community life?
- How can we build a more scientific savvy society, a society that takes science seriously and reacts responsively?
- How can we collectively learn from our error during this virus--what did we do wrong and how can we change that now and into the future?