Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Wondering about school


I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.
                                                        Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

I, newly retired, am an onlooker to teaching this year. Former colleagues have been in touch, I devour every word I find on-line about what teachers are facing, I hear from young families how they are coping...I see what a tough, tough school year we are beginning. Here, in the D.C. area, the emphasis this new year is on accountability - schools are paying close and strict attention to participation and attendance by students. Last spring, when virtual learning was new, weird, and unpredictable, my administration minimized (and, in some cases, tossed out) our traditional data tracking, allowing us teachers remarkable latitude in how we approached our classes. We were building a plane while trying to fly. It was - without a doubt - painful at times, but also a time of incredible creativity and raw thinking. I felt closer to my students and families, getting to know them on a new and deeper level. I felt closer to my teaching team and my colleagues, as we all tried to find our way forward. 

I wonder about the young families. Nothing is any easier this fall, from the families' perspective...pandemic life remains very challenging. Here in D.C., parents are still working at home, trying to balance their children's learning with their employment...now with ratcheted-up expectations for those students. Families must feel as if they are in a kind of vise. We have put a lot on their shoulders.

Teachers must feel as if they are in a kind of vise. We have put a lot on their shoulders. One teacher tells me - every student's performance must be tracked daily; teachers must contact every student/family that is not present in the virtual learning on any given day. Administrations are setting clear expectations for teacher performance - when to be on-line, what to demand of students, how to track the completion of their assignments, and principals are scrutinizing and reviewing every step of the way. So, while you are welcoming your students, starting a new year, creating and modifying lessons for virtual platform, you are simultaneously tracking and following up with students and families on this very detailed level. 

Why can't we pause?

The world is sick. SICK. I wish there was a magic wand that would give the whole wide world time off for sickness, for healing, for reflection. What if each of us could simply fall into a holding pattern, doing what we can do to make things better. In this magic wand scenario, everyone continues to receive their paychecks. Rules are loosened, and teachers are freed to find loving ways of engagement. 

Reality is so different than this magic wand idea.
We focus on attendance because it is data that we can complete.
It is like calorie-tracking.

It doesn't necessarily lead to wisdom and understanding.

Sometimes when we get caught up in these details, we aren't allowing time and space for the big questions: 
Why are these children here?
What enriches them?
What do we want them to feel? to take away? to learn?
Will children love learning? 
Have we cultivated their curiosity and joy?
Who are we missing and how do we reach them?
What do families need?
What do teachers need?
What does our community need?
How do we change our teaching to meet these new demands?

Think again about calorie-tracking. I can eat a hot fudge sundae and nothing else all day long; I will not consume too many calories for the day. If this were my daily habit, I may even lose weight. Yet, who am I kidding? I have met my calorie goal with very empty calories. My body isn't going to heal. But my stats will look good.

I'm worried about this school year on so many levels. 
Are we simply calorie-tracking learning? 

I hope every teacher finds small ways to weave in self-care and love each day. Teaching is heroic!!

Forward, we go!


  1. Your list of questions is much more helpful than attendance tracking. Your comparison with calorie tracking is spot on.

  2. Maureen, that hot fudge sundae metaphor for the way we are tracking student attendance is quite apt. I keep thinking of it. So much emptiness in these Covid days.

    Thank you for sharing. I'm sure it's not easy being away from your students and colleagues this year. Bless you during retirement. Keep sharing your wisdom!

  3. So well-observed and well-said! How much are we tracking for tracking's sake? Why must everything turn even more punitive for schools and teachers who are doing the best they can in less-than-ideal circumstances - not to mention the hardships on families? I almost want to write a piece entitled Death by Data. Amazing how big-picture reality is obscured by systemic narrow-mindedness ... in the name of justification. Keep shooting straight, Maureen- and thank you for the shot of encouragement as well.

  4. There has to be a happy medium. The data-driven mentality is wrong, especially in this sick world in which both humans and the planet are in so much distress. Here in Idaho we have a horrible law saying a district only has to offer teachers ten days off if they get Covid. Then the teacher must burn sick leave or take time w/out pay. It’s all so sad and angering.

  5. You're asking really good questions. There are so many of the things I believe are essential to teaching that I am just not doing this year. I'm trying to focus on this one thing: my kids and I are reading good books together and talking about them. So that's good.