Education’s on my Mind
The news is filled with politicians (led by our new President) clamoring to “get the kids back in school.” In Chicago, teachers (led by one of my former students, their Union President, Jesse Sharkey) are threatening a strike if teachers can’t get vaccinations and the schools can’t be guaranteed to be “safe.” We’ve heard a lot about what children/students may “have lost” as a result of the pandemic and, certainly, parents have been pushed beyond their limits, asked to monitor and help their children/students during this extraordinary year. The Lovely Carol Marie often accuses me of being a “Pollyanna,” a cockeyed optimist, a rose-colored glasses viewer of the world. When it comes to children/students, I’ll plead guilty. I think kids are remarkably resilient, adaptable, creative, imaginative, and boundlessly energetic --- and I mean all kids (having worked in cities & suburbs, I believe I have enough experience to confidently make this claim). As such, I believe, as the veil of this plague lifts ever so slowly, as it might, that by the fall of 2021 schools will be up and running and life will begin to take on its own new shape (“normalcy?”). With that in mind, I ran across a letter from a school principal (I think on Facebook) late in the Fall of 2020 and I believe now is a good time to pass it along. The attribution only said a “school Principal in Ballard, Washington” and my research shows that would be Keven Wynkoop. Whether it is his or not, the letter speaks for itself and I think it is both wise and instructive.
Dear Friends and Colleagues:
I am writing today about the children of this pandemic. After a lifetime of working among the young, I feel compelled to address the concerns that are being expressed by so many of my peers about the deficits the children will demonstrate when they finally return to school. My goodness, what a disconcerting thing to be concerned about in the face of a pandemic which is affecting millions of people around the country and the world. It speaks to one of my biggest fears for the children when they return. In our determination to “catch them up,” I fear that we will lose who they are and what they have learned during this unprecedented era. What on earth are we trying to catch them up on? The models no longer apply, the benchmarks are no longer valid, the trend analyses have been interrupted. We must not forget that those arbitrary measures were established by people, not ordained by God. We can make those invalid measures as obsolete as a crank up telephone! They simply do not apply.
When the children return to school, they will have returned with a new history that we will need to help them identify and make sense of. When the children return to school, we will need to listen to them. Let their stories be told. They have endured a year that has no parallel in modern times. There is no assessment that applies to who they are or what they have learned. Remember, their brains did not go into hibernation during this year. Their brains may not have been focused on traditional school material, but they did not stop either. Their brains may have been focused on where their next meal is coming from, or how to care for a younger sibling, or how to deal with missing grandma, or how it feels to have to surrender a beloved pet, or how to deal with death. Our job is to welcome them back and help them write that history.
I sincerely plead with my colleagues, to surrender the artificial constructs that measure achievement and greet the children where they are, not where we think they “should be.” Greet them with art supplies and writing materials, and music and dance and so many other avenues to help them express what has happened to them in their lives during this horrific year. Greet them with stories and books that will help them make sense of an upside-down world. They missed you. They did not miss the test prep. They did not miss the worksheets. They did not miss the reading groups. They did not miss the homework. They missed you.
Resist the pressure from whatever ‘powers that be’ who are in a hurry to “fix” kids and make up for the “lost” time. The time was not lost, it was invested in surviving an historic period of time in their lives—in our lives. The children do not need to be fixed. They are not broken. They need to be heard. They need be given as many tools as we can provide to nurture resilience and help them adjust to a post pandemic world.
Being a teacher is an essential connection between what is and what can be. Please, let what can be demonstrate that our children have so much to share about the world they live in and in helping them make sense of what, for all of us has been unimaginable. This will help them– and us– achieve a lot more than can be measured by any assessment tool ever devised. Peace to all who work with the children!
Stay safe. Get vaccinated as soon as you can. Thanks for reading.
2/3/2021 01:28:00 pm
hear hear...I particularly liked this, your pov. It is definitely how I have felt when listening to people panic at the fact that kids are missing school. (I think it is parents who may be missing school more...for many reasons.)
2/3/2021 01:56:47 pm
Yes, I'm sure people are missing "free" Day Care . . . but I think kids will bounce back . . .
2/3/2021 05:05:49 pm
What a fabulous letter! I would love to work for that principal. And I think your (and his) "rosy" outlook about resilience--and, I think, about the humanity and creativity you both express--is exactly what we will need to hear next September. And right now.
2/3/2021 05:37:17 pm
Our schools here in Canada have been back since September. No one has received any vaccines and yet we have done surprisingly well with numbers. Toronto has seen higher numbers within the community which transferred to schools pre and post Christmas break. Generally there has been very low transmission rates. The mental health of students far outweighs the minor risk of transmission. Staff are given masks and sanitizer and they are working to improve ventilation. The one serious weakness is class sizes which are still far too big for safety. Most high schools here are using an octomester system. Students study one subject for a month and stay in that classroom bubble for the 4 week course. Seems to be working!
10/24/2022 10:27:16 pm
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