Pressing Pause and rethinking education

During this crisis, I have been playing a mix of teacher to my students, teacher to my own children and mother. I have had a need to increase how often I am doing my mindfulness and yoga practices! I have also found my mind wandering to a lot of thoughts about my teaching career. I have been a teacher for 23 years. I officially have been a teacher longer than I have not been a teacher. When I first started teaching I remember so many colleagues complaining about one thing or another and always saying ” but it won’t last long! Everything in education comes and goes as something new”. I believe it started with phonics, then reading programs, rubrics, teaching portfolios, and now state testing and modules. There is always something being tested and thrown at teachers to “try to improve the education of our students”.

However, what if this “Global Pause” is the greatest lesson that educational institutions could have? Hear me out…I have now been “virtual teaching” for almost a month. In this time, myself and my colleagues literally packed up what we could carry to our cars and began to recreate what we do in our classroom through google classroom from folding tables in our living rooms. We have had to adjust our grading systems and canceled state testing and regents exams. These are all things that teachers have wanted to see go away for years because they have taken the focus off the child and created a system where teachers feel like robots and students feel very much the same.

During this crisis, it has been so refreshing to be able to create lessons again that not only help students to learn new skills, but that are focused on their well being and interests. I have seen a shift from “rigor” to “let’s take care of the whole child” again. This is something that has been so lost in our system over the past number of years. It is the MAIN reason that I started to incorporate mindfulness into my classroom. years ago. I saw such a need for us to take a pause in our day to make sure that the students mental health and well being was taken care of. This Pandemic Pause has us thinking about the homes that our students come from again and focusing on making a more inclusive and equal system for all students no matter their economic status. Now, please do not get me wrong… I know for a fact that there are tons of educators who have been focused on these things and have worked hard to make these issues their fight. I work with some of the best counselors and social workers around who have fought for kids relentlessly. I am just saying that it feels like this epidemic has brought these issues to the forefront for all of us. While there are still requirements to fulfill and directives from administrators coming our way, right now, we are shifting our focus a bit more due to the situation we are all living in.

Before this pandemic struck, education was feeling to me like an assembly line. As hard as my colleagues and I would fight to get others to see that not every child learned at the same pace, could pass the same tests, and needed services and help that we were told that we could not provide, things just did not change. It felt as though the end result of a test or a grade was the focus and not the well being of the child. It felt like we stopped seeing students as children and more like data and widgets. Rigor was the mantra and yet there were kids breaking down with anxiety and depression everywhere. Parents were pushing. Administrators and school boards were pushing. The media and politicians were criticizing.

Since this pandemic started, I have seen more of an emphasis on getting kids to art projects. play music on their front porch for neighbors and dance in the street (social distant of course). This is in stark contrast to the cutting of arts and music courses in schools. We have seen many emphasize the importance of working out, eating healthy, and getting outside more. Again a stark contrast to cutting physical education funding and recess time. I have seen more of a demand to lessen the amount of school work for children so that they have more time with family, more time to read books of their choice. and more time to connect with friends (online rather than in person of course). My big question is…shouldn’t this have always been important? Shouldn’t we have been focused on these aspects of educating the whole child all along? Is it only good in a time of crisis and something that we will forget the minute we go back to the “way it was”?

I have also seen a great emphasis on compassion and kindness. This is something that I REALLY feel was lacking when before the world shut down. We are making time to write hand written letters again to friends and loved ones. We are actually stopping to say hello as we pass people taking walks in the neighborhood rather than just walking by with our heads down in our phones. We are asking others how they are doing and looking for ways to cheer people up who may be struggling. We are realizing that those that we held in high esteem in our society…the rock stars, professional athletes, and celebrities are still good people, but it is the doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, and all who are working to keep us safe and save lives who are the true heroes and the people that we should look up to.

If we do not learn something BIG from this pandemic, I am not sure what to do. If we cannot take what we are learning about how to best take care of our students as humans back into our classrooms and revisit a system that no longer feels like it takes every part of the child into consideration, have we lost a big opportunity? If we don’t take a look at how we are doing things during this pandemic with our students and take some of this back to our school buildings, are we making a big mistake?

I know that there are many educators right now feeling very overwhelmed with the situation that has been dealt to us. Some are learning technology and programs on the fly so that they can send lessons to students. Others are trying to balance teaching, parenting, and tending to sick loved ones all at the same time. It is a very hard situation to make work. Between zoom faculty meetings and countless emails from students, it sometimes feels like there is too much to juggle. However, I am completely in awe of how those same teachers who feel as though they are struggling are still doing whatever they can to make sure their students are taken care of. Whether it be delivering meals, making individual phone calls or online meetings, google meet ups, zoom classes, singing songs. driving through neighborhoods with their cars decorated, many are feeling the pull to really make sure that their students are taken care of…mind, body, and spirit!

My hope is that when we all do get the chance to return to our classrooms, more administrators, school boards, politicians, and parents will remember this time as a time when teachers really made something very difficult work with out even a blip in time. I hope that they will go back to listening to us as professionals and care takers. I hope that we will all take a look at the educational system that we have and start more conversations about what we learned from this time and how we might go about doing this differently. I am not saying that we need to have a system without accountability, tests, and exams. I also understand that we need ways to close the great divide that is happening in schools. However, can we please take the lessons from this pandemic and start to think on a more global level? Can we stop making every child a piece of data? My hope is that parents will see the need to be our partners in education more than ever. I hope that many in our society will see that we were one of the constants that children had in their lives during this time and maybe what we do every day should be valued. I hope that those who are making educational decisions see that teachers do work hard to make education work even in times without APPR and scheduled observations. Many teachers do go above and beyond for their students without being asked to.

One of my biggest fears is that we go back to schools and go back to the old way of doing things without learning and changing with what has happened to us. None of us are going to be the same after this. We cannot expect our students to be the same. Let’s face it, there has always been students who were coming from home where their parents had lost their jobs and they were hungry. Did we give it as much attention then as we do now? We cannot expect to teach them the same ways that we did before. One of the biggest skills that I was taught when learning to be a teacher was the skill of monitoring and adjusting. Are we as a society going to monitor and adjust to this new reality?

I feel like we have been given a big pause that will be followed by an even bigger fork in the road for both education and society as a whole. Do we jump back into an educational system that was flawed by money constraints, inequities, testing and data above all else or do we look at things differently and learn what is really important to educate our children. Is standardized testing teaching our children how to be empathetic problem solvers who can get through trying times or should our emphasis change to the things that we have learned work during this crisis? Does an emphasis on homework and grades give our children time to be creative thinkers, problem solvers, and the innovators we need right now? What skills are we teaching in our schools that will help our children to be able to cope with the new realities that this pandemic has created?

My thoughts on this seem to be scattered and a bit unorganized, but I feel as though it is a sign of the time right now! My mindfulness practice have really sparked a lot of these thoughts. It is amazing the thoughts that you can have when you give your brain a pause and allow it time to consider and ponder. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Please feel free to comment and share what you think!!

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