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Just some thoughts, a year after pandemic school closures

 (Wow, I'm great at promising to post regularly, and then just not posting. I need to stop announcing things.)

A year ago today (March 13th) was the last day of school before everything closed down for the pandemic. At the time, we didn't know what the future would hold, so at first, we were like, "Okay, double-long spring break. That's cool, I guess!" 

And then we just never came back from it. Our extended spring break turned into online supplementary learning (it was only a year ago, and I can't remember any of the official names or acronyms we used last spring) where we couldn't move forward with curriculum and could only assign bonus work that students wouldn't be held accountable for missing. Then the bonus work turned into Real Work That Will Affect their Grades for just a hot minute until we received notice that students grades would default to whatever they were as of March 13th, and that they would count as P/F only, and that students could continue to bring their grades up if they were failing, but if they were passing, they technically wouldn't need to do a thing. Oh, and then the F's turned into I's, so that students wouldn't be discouraged by the finality of a failing grade.

And that's where we are now, more or less. We have gone back to letter grades, but we're still using Incompletes in place of F's. We're still doing online learning, though we have implemented LIPI (limited in-person instruction) for the students who need it most, and we are actually getting ready to go back to in-person learning in hybrid format next month (if our county's numbers stay down), because there's a whollllle contingent of people who insist that we cannot exist in CDL for a moment longer.

And I get it--I get both sides. On the one hand, students are struggling to keep up with their work. Having taught for an online school myself, I've seen firsthand how difficult it is for students to stay engaged and meet deadlines without face-to-face contact; online learning is NOT for everyone, especially if it's not something you opted into to begin with. I also have students who are working to support their families, or are taking care of siblings to support their family members who are working, and I also just have students who are mentally, emotionally, and in all other ways checked out of the academic process. They need the structure and routine of in-person school.

On the other hand, people are still getting sick out there! There are variants flying around! Teachers in my state are getting vaccinated, but our students definitely aren't. We're all worried about getting sick, and we are all worried about getting others sick. No one wants there to be an In Memoriam page of the yearbook dedicated to this pandemic. No one wants to be responsible for an In Memoriam page of the yearbook dedicated to this pandemic.

So I get both sides. But what I don't like is that it feels like I'm in the middle of the squabbling on both sides. I am always seeing comments from people on social media posts where some people are like, "TEACHERS SHOULD GO BACK TO WORK AND DO THEIR JOBS!", as if teachers are somehow fighting to be able to KEEP talking to a silent, faceless screen all day. And then other people are like, "WHY SHOULD TEACHERS GET VACCINATED? WHY CAN'T THEY TEACH ONLINE A LITTLE LONGER?", as if we are the ones pressuring the governor to reopen schools. It just feels like we teachers are the ones in the middle not being listened to. I don't love that our governor suddenly decided one day to relax metrics and let individual school districts decide when to go back to school, and then suddenly decided again one day that, No, WE HAVE to go back to school on or before this date, END OF DISCUSSION. 

I mean, my own district's plan happened to line up with the dates that she mandated anyway, and our county's numbers have been improving, but I can't help but feel a sense of trepidation. I don't know how things are going to go. I don't know how to schedule my staff of assistants to support students in this format. (I'm only just now learning how to schedule my staff to support students in CDL! I'm new to this!) 

I don't like not knowing what the eff I'm doing. But on the bright side, will any of us know what we're doing? Are we tired of the word "unprecedented" yet? Because we still have more ground left to cover.

And in the true middle of all of this is our students. Teachers will end up doing whatever it takes to help our kids, because that's what we do, for better or for worse. But it's the kids who stand to get hurt by adults' decisions. 

I don't have any suggestions about what's best here. There is no easy answer, because when it comes to education, there is no single answer that works for everybody. It was true when we were in "regular" school, and it's especially true now. If anything, I think that this past year has highlighted how ineffective and inequitable certain aspects of traditional education are.  (I'm not criticizing all of public education, okay? Don't forget--I am an educator.) 

So, on the one hand, I am extremely proud of my colleagues, my staff of assistants, and my admin team for doing the absolute best they could with what is an extremely difficult situation. No one is perfect, but we are all trying so VERY hard right now, amidst a ton of background noise from people who aren't in education, who don't know squat about education, but who loudly share their opinions about education. We are alternately being referred to as heroes (though, god forbid our pay reflects that sentiment) and then being called selfish. We are hard-working, but apparently we're also lazy. 

That's been the backdrop of the last year. And I CAN'T BELIEVE it has been a full year. (Not to mention, this past year I HAD A BABY.) It's still too soon for me to have any take-aways, because we're still in the thick of it. We're still venturing into new territory. Someday, maybe, we'll be able to have a regular, in-person school year again, but I don't know if things will ever truly go back to normal. 

But then again, maybe they shouldn't? Maybe "normal" wasn't working very well after all, and what we need is a newer, better way of doing things that really, truly supports all students and their wide range of needs.

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