We Can’t Go Back

I find myself frequently wishing to go back each time I step into my classroom. I want my desks set up into cooperative learning groups. I want my carpet where my students sit and listen to stories. I want to spend less time monitoring how far students are away from each other and if their masks are above the nose. I want to “go back to normal”  for so many reasons, but we can’t. When it comes right down to it, there are things I don't want to go back to.

Before COVID, our schools were not a place where each child felt a deep sense of belonging. Our schools lacked representation, we instituted Zero-Tolerance discipline practices that were disproportionately used against Black and Brown students, and many opportunities were not provided to our students of color. I don’t want to go back to an educational system that does not provide the education our students of color deserve.

Before COVID, how a student performed academically and athletically was more valuable than who they were as individuals. Before COVID, the pressure and stress was so great suicide rates were drastically increasing, even in our elementary aged students. I do not want to go back to an educational system where social emotional learning and mental health were considered fluff.

Before COVID, it was common to make assignments that required technology access and grade students on completion, even if the student did not have internet access. Grades and communication from the classroom teacher were digital, yet not all families could receive them. Then the school would be frustrated at a parent’s lack of involvement.

I do not want to go back to an educational system where grading practices measure access, not students’ understanding.

Before COVID, educators and students felt the weight of a broken educational system but had little power to create change. However, we have been provided an opportunity to make all of the improvements we have been advocating for. We cannot allow the valuable lessons from COVID to disappear and leave our educational systems unchanged. I do not want to go back to an educational system so many were trying to change for the better.

So, we must act, and there are several steps we can take together to create the impact we need.

  • Teacher Leadership- Teacher voice has always been important, but now more than ever. The teachers in the classrooms are the only people who have ever taught during a pandemic. They have perspectives that are valuable and unique. We need teachers at decision-making tables to provide insight on how to spend CARES Act money, to determine ways to impact changes that directly improve education as a whole, and to help create policies to ensure all students are provided the opportunities they need to learn.
  • Reflect - We need to pause and take a deep breath. Look at each decision we have made this year and ask: What was good about this decision? What worked? What didn't? When we pause and reflect on each decision, we will be able to determine how to positively impact the classroom. Reflection needs to occur at all levels - classroom, school, district, state, and national.
  • Advocate - We need to use our collective voice to propel the changes our students deserve. Teachers need to be active in the discussion about the direction of education. If you are passionate about increasing teacher pay, speak out and work with legislators. If you want to see culturally-responsive teaching practices, work with curriculum directors and the team who plans professional development at your district. Teachers need to be empowered to make the changes our kids need.

We need to remember we cannot cling to the comfort of what was in one hand while grasping for a better tomorrow with the other hand. We need to be bold and press forward. So, each time you begin to feel like you cannot wait to go back, pause, and dream of the future our students deserve.

Rachael Wilcox is a  First Grade teacher at Independence Elementary School in the Francis Howell School District. She is a 2020 Missouri Teacher of the Year Finalist and recently honored with the NEA Foundation’s Awards for Teaching Excellence. She is committed to creating cultures that educate the whole child by weaving character education and social emotional learning across all instruction and professional development. Rachael enjoys inspiring educators, but her most significant impact has been in the hearts of her students. She believes educating the whole child influences the next generation to act with empathy and empowers them to become world changers.



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