We had field trips planned. A whole second semester social studies curriculum designed around groups and teams of students working together, hands-on, on a problem that the field trip would present. We had units and mentor texts and SEL lessons on PowerPoints and scaffolded graphic organizers.
It wasn’t that we weren’t prepared. It’s that we weren’t prepared for this.
However, it seems that although people grasp this at its base, (“Of course you weren’t. How could you be prepared? No one was prepared for this.”), there still hangs the expectation that we will be able to pivot from these previous plans in two days of meetings and planning in order to create an online curriculum that is on or near par with its predecessor. This is both an unreasonable and problematic assumption.
The tip of the iceberg is that this situation only amplifies inequities that exist and disadvantage those in our system as it is. During this time, many students have become babysitters, caretakers, second job holders, food-finders, teachers themselves, and numerous other positions that we cannot foresee. Many students do not have a device or wifi to complete online schoolwork with. If they do have a device, they likely share it with a parent, sibling, relative, or other member of the household.
This also puts learning objectives on parents, whose job it is to care for their children and be an emotional support system, not to ensure that standards are met. Many, if not most, parents still have jobs right now, be it taking conference calls from home or working extended hours in critical industries.
It is also worth noting that these inequities are not new nor unique, and if nothing else, this situation is giving us a chance to take a long, hard, look at the way we do things like fund schools and how we treat critical industries.
Another important consideration is that of differentiation. As it is, we work day in and day out as a school system to accommodate and differentiate a large caseload of student needs, from behavior to language to non neurotypical. As it is, we lack the funding and resources to fulfill these needs.
Expecting work output from these students in particular in the face of additional chaos is beyond unfair, it is a disservice. In the classroom, differentiation often occurs in grouping, small group work, one-on-one work time, and scaffolded materials and assignments, all of which are not feasible in this situation. Putting teachers and other professionals in the field, such as counselors, in the position of doing their (already difficult) jobs from a distance and on a learning curve while expecting grades are posted at the end is absurd in a time of crisis.
This also brings to light the expectations conveyed by the assumptions of living in a digital era. The expectation that stems from the preexistence of online college classes, the new plethora of online resources for students, and specialized teaching degrees in digital literacy is not meant to be employed in place of face-to-face interaction.
The commercial of the college student working through the night on her laptop to fit classes in, and then getting up early to make oatmeal for her daughter is not the same scenario a 7 year old is in. Those in online degree programs are not 6 year olds who use a computer for no more than an hour a day or who spend six of the eight school hours practicing positive interaction with peers and adults.
To our credit, we are teachers and if we know how to do anything, it’s pivot; it’s how to pull off extravagance with little means. But we’re humans, too. With families and friends to care for and worry about with the weight of an unprecedented pandemic hanging over our heads, too. As educator and Ted Talk presenter Liz Kleinrock pointed out in a tweet, “no student is going to remember something on a worksheet they did while in forced isolation during a national pandemic.” Honestly, I probably won’t remember what I taught, either.
Now isn’t the time to make sure our students can “meet standards,” on a state test or otherwise. It’s not the time for completion packets or assignments of any kind that revolve around anything more than the idea of reassurance. Now is the time to be a consistent relationship. A voice on a read-aloud or a silly science lesson. Our students are suffering from enough anxiety and pressure right now as it is, and school shouldn’t add to that.
Let this time be used to cope, to heal, or for some, just survive. Let this also be a chance to critically examine these standards and their subsequent tests for what they truly are. Let this cause us to question who these standards were written by, who they were written for, and who they ultimately serve. I’m not convinced it’s our students.
MacKennea Broyles is a first-grade teacher in Thornton.