So What? Now What?

So What? Now What?

“I touch the future, I teach.” I’ve thought about this quote from Christa McAuliffe many times over the past several weeks. As teachers, we live in the future. We make lesson plans for the weeks and months ahead. We focus on the high stakes assessments at the end of the year. We ask our students what their lives look like after graduation. We live so much in the future that many of us have to make a conscious effort to “live in the present”.

Well, quite honestly, I’m a little tired of living in the present right now. I’m tired of the everyday emails from companies who want to let me know how they can help. I’m tired of the free websites for educators (ok, maybe not), and I’m tired of looking at my computer screen (literally).

So, let’s step away from the present for a moment and talk about the future.

What can we, as educators, learn from this distinctive period in time? What have we learned we can live without, and what have we learned are the essentials of teaching? We are in a unique place right now. As teachers, we have the power to hit the reset button across the United States. So we owe it to our students to ask this important question: what do we want education to look like when the school doors open once again?

First of all, I hope we have realized that distance learning can’t and shouldn’t replace a qualified teacher in a classroom. Many of the students in my own classroom don’t have devices or access to the Internet. This has created an immense problem with delivering instruction in an equitable manner.

If they do have devices and Internet access, Zoom meetings and Google Hangouts can be helpful ways to connect in desperate times. However, it’s hard to have meaningful discussions about literature when students are playing online games in the background. More importantly, it’s hard to have a meaningful transaction about everyday life when students are online. We want to see our kids every day so we know that they have food and that they aren’t wearing the same outfit for three days in a row (although lately I have been). We want our students to know we care about them, and we see them--literally and figuratively.

Secondly, I hope we take a serious look at the ways in which schools and teachers are evaluated. As a teacher in a tested grade, I was ecstatic to learn that the end-of-the-year testing was one of the first things to go. I don’t mind being evaluated, but those tests are inequitable and often inaccurate for a wide variety of reasons. And, here’s the thing. Even though testing for this year is gone in many states, and we are no longer being held accountable (as many people believe), we are still teaching because we hold ourselves accountable. We, as teachers, are still doing our job. We are teachers, and that’s what we do. We teach. We can teach here or there. We can teach anywhere! Therefore, can we look at alternatives to evaluating teachers besides a test given at the end of the school year? Can we also find a more equitable way to measure student growth?  I think these are conversations worth having.

What have we learned as educators?

Something I’ve learned from online teaching is that many of us need to work on basic life skills with our students. I’ve heard frustration from several teachers that students have a hard time reading and following instructions. That becomes evident when we write instructions in a document, put the document in Google classroom, and proceed to answer the 1,267 questions that follow. I blame some of that on us. We need to continue to work on teaching our students how to read and follow the directions. Maybe some of our first professional development meetings when school starts back up can focus on best practices that teach this vital skill.

Here is what I hope we get to keep.

I hope we keep having discussions about equity, and I hope we take real steps towards providing that equity to all of our students. I hope we keep the relationships that have formed between teachers and parents, and we keep building on those relationships and mutual respect. This crisis has reinforced the importance both groups have in a child’s education and the amazing strides that can happen when both groups work together. I hope we continue discussions about trauma because trauma doesn’t happen only during a pandemic.

I hope this whole situation has reinforced to the public how vital schools are to the community. One of the first things schools across America did was to figure out how to feed our kids. For free! If we can utilize those resources in a time of crisis, why can’t we make that happen during the school year?

I hope when we get back to normal, we don’t really get back to normal. I hope we take a hard look at education and make some powerful changes. Now is the time. The future is in our classroom, and we can’t wait to get back.

Denise Henggeler has been teaching 4th grade at Northeast Nodaway for 22 years; however, she has never taught the same lesson twice. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood/Elementary Education (1997) and her Master’s of Science in Middle School Education (2007) from Northwest Missouri State University. Denise co-wrote a grant for her school to become a NASA Explorer School. She loves being part of a district so small that the preschool through twelfth grade is housed in one building. Denise was named a 2020 Missouri Teacher of the Year Finalist, and she encourages students and colleagues alike to “Dare Mighty Things”! You can follow Denise on Twitter at @NEN4thgrade.

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