The end of the school year is rapidly approaching. Georgia is developing new ELA standards, and the process has led me to reflect on what skills and knowledge *I* think students should have, what our community thinks, and what students themselves think. In a poem about identity and heritage, one student wrote “the only book we read is the Bible.”
Do you remember being read to when you were really little? Can you think of any stories that were your favorites? I don’t have the book anymore, but one of my favorites was from a collection of stories, and it was “The Little Lonely House,” about a house whose family had moved away, and it watched people come and go on the street, and there was lots of description of that. But then, eventually, one of the cars turns, and it comes up the drive, and it stops at the house, and a family gets out and goes inside. And the house was filled with noise, and light, and laughter. I still remember the final sentence: “And the little lonely house wasn’t lonely anymore.”
I want you to think about the feelings that are associated with those memories. Hold onto them for a few moments.
At the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, the COVID-19 pandemic had been in full force for a year and a half. Vaccine rates were up and both new cases and death rates were down. And everyone was tired of closures and social distancing and, you know, the effects of an international plague. People wanted to “get back to normal.”
My school, and many others, opened up fully in-person. But as cases started increasing again, teachers, parents, administrators, and pretty much everyone started noticing that something else wasn’t “normal.” Students didn’t enter their new courses with the same level of academic knowledge and skill that previous cohorts had. Their behavior was different. And their attitudes were different as well.
The phrase “learning loss” had been trickling through educational discourse all through the previous school year, particularly with regard to the disparity between students from wealthier families, who were more likely to have better access to resources for effective remote instruction and better support, and students from poorer families, who were less likely to have access to those same resources. Educational achievement has always correlated closely with wealth (or the lack of it), and think tanks and pundits were warning that the pandemic was likely to widen that gap.
I’m not anybody all that important. I’m just one public school teacher. One among about three and a half million. I don’t get to be the person who makes the big decisions; I’m the one who gets them handed to me. And, unfortunately, I’ve kind of gotten used to the decision-making folks not listening to me. I dunno; maybe that’s why I’m as opinionated as I am.
I know that the decision-making folks are really, really busy, and they’ve got a lot of people who want to be listened to.
By the time I release this on my channel, we’ll be a few weeks into the 2021 school year. As I’m sitting here writing this script, it’s Day 7. I have 32 students enrolled in my English II class. It’s during the block when we have lunch, so I’m with these students from 11:25 until 1:40. In less than a week, I knew all their names.
Part of that is because of a new activity I incorporated this year – the Five-Day Feedback Form, AKA “name tents” – which I’m going to do a video about later on.
On Monday and Tuesday, I had thirty students present. Yesterday it was sixteen.
My schedule has been changed and I’ve been given a completely new course for which no one will give me any guidelines. The guidelines exist, of course, and I will be expected to adhere to them, but I don’t know what they are.
I arrive at school only to find that the teachers’ parking area has been changed. I’m not sure where I’m supposed to park and if I spend much more time driving around I’m going to be late and my students will be unsupervised.
One of my students is distraught and is trying to explain to me why she’s so upset. I want to listen to her and give her my attention, but it’s during the middle of class and has interrupted instruction and it’s not fair to neglect the other students to focus on her.
We have a fire drill. I take roll and a student who should be present is not.
I was supposed to cover classes for a colleague, and I forgot. Everyone else has to pitch in because I didn’t follow through on what I said I would do.
I ask students to take out their books, and they tell me that I was supposed to pass the books out but I never did, and I realize that they are right and that we can’t study the essay I have in my lesson plans because I did not bring the books and it is all my fault.
So, before I get started, I want to give a short message to any teachers who happen to be watching this. And that message is, “You can skip most of this, because you already know it, because you’ve lived it.” So, fellow teachers, thank you for your service, and you can scroll down to ‘What Can Help‘ for some practical ideas for how to juggle all of the expectations that are placed on us.
Students are often surprised when I tell them that I don’t expect English class to be their top priority. To me, this just seems like basic rationality. Demanding that MY CLASS be the most important thing in anyone else’s life would demonstrate levels of arrogance and entitlement that are at the very least, unhealthy.
This blog post is an adaptation of a video I created, available here.
Back in February of 2021, the news broke that the Department of Education announced it would NOT be setting aside the “accountability requirements” as required by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
This shot my blood pressure through the roof, so let’s take a step back and breathe for a moment. No, I’m not abandoning this topic. It’s just a moment. And, be honest. Chances are pretty good that you need this moment as much as I do. (And I really need a moment.)
So. Quit slouching. Move your spine. Remember the cervical and sacral areas, too. Shoulders play an important part. Hold yourself more open. Straighten. Release. Empower.
Remember that what we do matters. And that is not just a statement of responsibility, but of opportunity.
Breathe in slowly. Deeply, but without creating tightness. Pause. Release, just as evenly.
Normally, by about mid-July I start feeling excited about the upcoming school year. However, this year I spent mid to late July studying Google Suite in preparation to teach remotely. Except then we found out we wouldn’t be teaching remotely. Except we would be teaching some of our students remotely. At the same time that we were teaching the rest of the class in person.
This summer has been one frustrating complication after another. Other countries that had tighter restrictions saw their numbers of new cases sharply decline. However, at both of my summer jobs, while I was required to wear a mask, most of our customers did not. And surprise, surprise, this was the result: