I feel the need to admit that I am penning this piece after a heated phone call with a friend who is a teacher leader. I listened with frustration as she recounted a four-hour meeting during which her board of education tore apart, and subsequently rejected, her team’s back-to-school transition plan … not to mention their expertise as educators.
This narrative is one I’ve heard from countless educators across the country in the past two weeks. Even worse, some have shared horrific accounts where educators weren’t even included in their district’s back-to-school transition teams. This is a serious problem.
Educators Are Experts
I’m no stranger to the fact that most people have spent time in school buildings as students, and that because of this, individuals often experience a false sense of expertise regarding what it actually takes to run a school. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard a non-educator say something like, “Well this is what they’re doing in [insert town name thirty minutes away from the town at the center of the discussion] and I don’t see why we can’t just do the same thing.”
With all due respect, this is the equivalent of me flippantly commenting on the back-to-work plan of the nuclear power plant where my husband is employed, my expertise grounded—pun intended—in the fact that I frequently use electricity. In reality, I know very little about nuclear energy and absolutely nothing about the logistics of what is required to run a nuclear power plant for a day.
Also, and I feel compelled to state, the irony is not lost on me that the secretary of education—the person tasked with the enormous responsibility of helping us navigate how to return to school in the middle of a pandemic—is not an educator. She never was.
Nevertheless, when educators are realistic and say, “Here’s what we can safely do with all things considered …” they’re frequently met with resistance. But here’s the deal: Educators know the specific challenges of their buildings, not to mention the logistics of what it takes to navigate a school day in their unique districts. Obviously, back-to-school plans are not and should not be “one-size-fits-all.” But all districts should value the expertise of their educators.
Unfortunately, I know far too many educators who invested countless hours this summer in a desperate attempt to put together plans which met the specific challenges of their respective districts, only to have those plans torn apart and rejected by non-educators who insisted on full-time, in-person instruction because “parents need to get back to work.” The lack of respect for educator expertise, not to mention educator lives, is astounding! The message consistently being delivered to educators is that their concerns are null and void and their professional experiences are invalid. This is extremely concerning and, quite frankly, very dangerous.
One colleague shared a story about how a team of approximately 12 education professionals spent weeks discussing everything, including but not limited to:
- How to get kids on buses while social distancing.
- How to line kids up while social distancing.
- How to check all of the students’ temperatures before entering their school buildings on days when it’s cold and raining.
- How to safely provide lunch, while monitoring how many kids congregate in the cafeteria.
- How to get kindergartners to keep a mask on for more than five minutes.
She stated, “We debated every hypothetical, every potential scenario, and considered all of the nuanced logistics of a school day. Ultimately, our district plan was rejected in the first five minutes of the meeting, and the board came up with their own plan to offer full-time, in-person instruction in a matter of 10 minutes.”
Another colleague said that a school board made up of no educators questioned the validity of art, music, and physical education in their plan after so much lost core instructional time in the spring. She attempted to explain that in order to educate the whole child, research suggests that students needed access to all of those specials. Her board rejected the plan and cut the classes anyway to make up for “lost learning.”
One colleague recounted a conversation she had with a parent-friend who didn’t understand the work that went into planning for remote learning. This friend insisted, “It can’t be that much extra work” and that it was simply “plugging stuff into Google classroom.” False.
Educators Want to Return to School Safely
Bottom line: There isn’t an educator I’ve spoken to across the country who doesn’t desperately want to get back to in-person instruction safely!
We know that students are missing out on the support systems that a typical school day offers.
We know that they were cheated out of in-person learning this spring.
We know that we’re going to see the effects of neglect, abuse and trauma in our classrooms when they return to us.
We know that students are best served when they are physically present in our classrooms, and we want to provide them with the in-person instruction they deserve.
Also, we miss our students. A lot.
I’m not suggesting that we should be divided or promoting an “us vs. them” mentality. I believe that the opinions and expertise of parents and families are incredibly important in these conversations, too. We should consider multiple lenses when we think about the unique challenges of our school communities—and we’re all in this together. Nonetheless, we should respect the experiences and the expertise of educators, and we need to remember that shaming and vilifying educators for a district’s decision whether or not to offer in-person instruction does nothing to advance the complex conversations that are required in order to make incredibly tough decisions in real-time.
Educators are not the enemy in this scenario. Some districts will have the resources to offer in-person instruction as an option. Some districts won’t. But educator expertise should not be dismissed in each district’s decision to do what’s best for their respective communities, students and staff. Period.
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