2020 has been a strange year for sure. COVID-19 has definitely taken its toll on education — the teachers, the students, and families. Parents who have little to no experience teaching kids stepped up and made it happen. Teachers were asked to switch to virtual learning with no preparation, and they crushed it.
The end of this year, though, is strange and sad. No one expected this, and it’s out of our hands, but it still sucks. I spent about three hours in my classroom the other day and didn’t get everything done for my room to be “summer ready”. It’s because, usually, the students help me take things off the wall and put things away. Families have been asked to pick up their child’s belongings that have been bagged up and prepped for them. No in-class celebrations. Don’t forget the kids who don’t have Internet, who aren’t able to jump on Zoom to say hi or, in this case, goodbye.
We have been through a lot this year. I always take a look back at the end of each year and ask the question: what have I learned this year? So what have we learned? Coronavirus shook things up, but I hope more than anything that it has opened the eyes of the public, education departments, district and school leaders, and families to everything that is truly important.
One of the first things I think that has been learned is that school is more than just a place for academic learning. School is where are kids learn about reading, writing, math, etc., but it is also where they learn social skills, how to solve problems, how to make friends and keep those friendships strong, how to think outside of the box, and more. School is where some kids receive social emotional help. School feeds children, and it provides a safe place for children from abusive situations. Never again, should the phrase, “just a teacher” ever be used again. We are not “just teachers”, and it is more than “just school”. School leaders, teachers, custodial staff, cafeteria workers, school social workers, school nurses, and school counselors deserve the respect that they deserve because they all wear more than one hat.
We have learned that our kids are resilient. The kids have been through quite an ordeal. They have been forced to change their learning environment and complete work at home, which is usually where they can be with their families, play video games, take care of their pets…all the things outside of school. Yet, they had to do school work at home. It was hard enough for some teachers to adjust; think about how your students and families feel. Especially the high school seniors. Some freaked out and were in limbo land for a while, wondering if they would be able to graduate this year. Schools made that possible for them, but it’s their resilience — from the beginning of Kindergarten through 12th grade — that is worth noting.
I believe that parents have learned to trust and appreciate their teachers. I have heard more from parents about how they hope their children doesn’t “act like this at school”. I have heard from parents who are struggling to teach their children, and end up showing so much appreciation for the work that I and so many wonderful people do every day.
I hope that schools and educational leaders have learned that art, music, and P.E. are just as important as English Language Arts and math. Think about this: what kept everyone from going insane during quarantine? I saw educators and more friends on social media start exercising outside by walking, running, or biking (P.E.). Heck, I even started running. I also watched a lot of shows on Netflix, and I listened to a lot of really great music and played music as well (music). I saw a video on Facebook of people in Italy playing music from their balconies with their neighbors (music). My sister, a hair stylist from Belen, NM started painting (art). Without the artists and musicians, you wouldn’t have your entertainment. For as long as I have been teaching, the three specials I mentioned have always taken a back seat to subjects like ELA and math. Why? Entertainment is a lot of art and music. Exercise, especially when done outside, is extremely beneficial. Why are we secretly telling our kids and (sometimes) personally telling our specials teachers that they aren’t important, or that they don’t work as hard as we do? First of all, that’s insulting, degrading, and mean to tell someone that they aren’t as important as you. Specials teachers do work just as hard as classroom teachers, and it’s time that they are given the respect that they deserve.
Teachers we have learned that you are tech savvy and can learn to use tools, such as Google Classrooms. Sorry, but the excuses belong in a special file called the trash can. You did learn how to use Google Classroom and Zoom (or other online tools). You did teach online. You pulled it together when all this time you didn’t think you could. Even if you are just using the very basics of these online tools, you did it. Don’t quit using them! Use it again next year. Challenge yourself to learn something new next year. You can learn new things, just like our students.
We’ve learned that relationships are perhaps the most important aspect of education. When everything hit the fan, what was most important for schools to do? Stay connected with students and families. What was given more emphasis, state testing and data meetings or contacting families to see how their child was progressing and how they were holding up? Some kids of mine would jump onto a Zoom call just to chat; they didn’t have questions about the assignments. They just wanted reconnect with me and with each other. Relationships and personal connections should always be at the forefront of education. Authentic relationships will lead to authentic learning.
We’ve learned a lot, or at least I hope we have. We still have a long way to go before this is all over and before changes are made, but I hope that this situation that we have found ourselves in has helped us learn what is truly important and what is necessary for continued success in the years to come.