Recently, my grandmother reminded me that we have too many luxuries in schools. Though we consider these necessities today for elders like my grandmother, heat, air conditioning and transportation were all things that were wildly inaccessible.
She will tell you the length she walked to and from school in extreme weather conditions. How, despite the circumstances, she went to school every single day because back then, education was a privilege and not necessarily a right.
I say this because I was perplexed by how much coverage was given to Baltimore City Schools earlier this year when they were without heat.
During my first five years teaching, I had no AC and a failing heating system in my classroom. I bought space heaters and my principal purchased floor fans. Despite these conditions, I never heard any parents, students or teachers complain. The ironic thing was once the school received AC units in each classroom, I often didn’t run it because it made so much noise. No matter how hot or cold, I still taught my kids and they still learned!
Ten years ago, as an assistant principal, I supervised the portable building in my school (the walls have no type of insulation). Well, my daughter is now being taught in one of those classrooms and guess what? There is still no heat. I prepare her for school by buying her thermal underwear to wear under her uniform with her thermal jacket and Ugg boots. She still has to go to school to learn and her teacher keeps the door closed with her space heater running to teach.
At the beginning of this school year, my custodian reported that the AC units had been stolen. The summer prior, we knew that the AC wasn’t working and made repair reports. But it wasn’t until a contractor came to the school for a whole other matter that we realized they had been stolen. I headed up to the roof to see for myself and all the AC units used to cool the library and computer lab were gutted for their parts.
I was completely disgusted with the community. Who would do that? I had to beg and plead, send photographs to the top officials to ensure we were ready for opening day. Going further, I had to convince them to apply security measures so that the AC didn’t go walking out again.
As a leader, I bought fans, bought ice pops, nagged facilities, held my custodian accountable, sent photos, worked with community partners to use their building to accommodate students on hot days, moved classes to warmer locations in the building, bought uniform hoodies so students were appropriately dressed and used social media to communicate with parents about conditions and more. My objective was teachers would still teach and kids would still learn!
Our kids are resilient and we have to teach them to endure uncomfortable or undesirable situations. An educator’s main focus should be on educating our children. We must leave the sensational news to the politicians and community to bicker over, meanwhile, let’s find alternatives to teach and learn!