I am a word nerd. I know it; I own it. In fact, I think of myself as kind of an apprentice word nerd since I know that there are SO many people who are much more knowledgeable and passionate about words than I am - you know, linguists, grammarians, lexicographers, Noah Webster .... Sometimes, I just really love words themselves, the sounds of them, the meanings, the humor, the odd spellings, the predictable spellings... Sometimes I just really desire clarity, for example the words want , need, and should. The current climate in the United States, and all around the world, has caused me to think about these words even more than usual lately.
Returning to School
Of course we all want to be back in person for school. Professionals, parents, politicians, and even students seem to be able to agree that schools need to be back in session in person. There are definitely ways we can return in person. Then starts the slippery slope of trying to define the shoulds and should-nots. How should funding be determined and were will it come from? What should teachers plan for? What should teachers be responsible for? Who should make these decisions? Who should not?
Consider the concepts of time, human capacity, resources and equity. Is there really enough time for teachers to recharge this summer like they need to in order to really be there for our children in the fall? Is there enough time for them to take care of themselves? Can they really have enough strength and energy to care for themselves through all of the planning of physical space, emotional space, insecurities and anxieties as well as the impulsive choices children make AND plan quality lessons that can be done in-person, or remote, or a mixture of both? Should they have to do all of this? I find myself responding, "does that really matter?", but what I really mean is "that's not the conversation that needs to be had".
Focus our Energies
Whether they want to or not isn't where we need to focus our energies. Whether they should have to or not isn't where we need to focus our energies. Our energies need to be focused elsewhere because teachers WILL do all of this - and more - because they need to. This WILL happen because that's what teachers do. They will need to plan for new space and new procedures. They will need to plan in times for cleaning during their school day. Most will also need to completely change their instructional methods so they can limit the community, collaboration and movement that we know is needed for good learning. Teachers will need to plan for multiple versions of the work they plan to do with their students with less resources. Then they will need to determine if those plans are wants or needs because it will ultimately depend on what administrators and legislators determine they should be teaching after all is said and done. And, teachers will need to do all of this at the same time most other folks are arguing about politics and who is "really in control" of the schools and education system.
What we need to focus on is what do teachers need in order to make these things happen? What kinds of decisions need to be made and in which order? How can we help this happen? What do we need to know in order to make decisions? What can really be done by August?
Need to Work Together
Teachers are not asking to keep kids at home this fall, quite the opposite in fact, but, teachers need to be free to share their concerns about how we are supposed to prioritize this fall. Teachers need to be able to voice their concerns about the emotional and physical health of their students as well as themselves and their own families without the connotation that in doing so they are weak or not doing their job. Voicing concerns about how things will be for schools in the fall is not the same as saying they should not return; it is part of the work of making it possible. We all want kids in school this fall. Kids need us to work together to ensure they have a future worth learning for.
Teachers are anxious. Professionals and administrators are anxious. Legislators are anxious. Parents are anxious. Students are anxious. Basically, everyone is anxious and anxiety can cause humans to shutdown. While human beings do need to shutdown sometimes, we also need to be mindful to staying open: open to listening; open to having challenging discussions; open to helping our fellow human beings.