So, I already covered some initial ideas, but since some schools are already in session, with many more opening in the next few weeks, I thought it was worth revisiting and updating the issues surrounding a safe return to schools.
Let’s face it, no matter what, school will not look like it did one year ago. Even schools that are taking a “business as usual” approach will have a different look with some students and teachers electing to wear masks and take other measures for their personal safety. And despite this being turned into a political issue by many people, COVID-19 has no political affiliation. We should start by dispelling some of the opinions being floated out there.
First of all, teachers DO NOT want to get out of working. In fact, going virtual and working from home will be quite a bit more work for most teachers than if they were in the classroom. Learning new technologies to record meaningful lessons and adapting previously perfected plans to effectively assess students from a remote environment is not an easy task. This is especially true given the fact that most districts have not provided teachers with a plan or even an indication of what they will do when school starts, despite a short timeframe. Battle me all you want on this one, but I consider myself a tech savvy veteran teacher (with experience teaching blended classrooms), and I’m finding it difficult to adapt my classroom to accommodate all types of learners. I don’t go online and tell you how shitty your profession is, so just accept that maybe you just don’t know the ins and outs of being a professional educator. I promise that most teachers wish we could return to the status quo, but it’s just not possible to do so.
Secondly, I’ve heard a lot of people say that the science doesn’t support kids being at risk of death from Coronavirus. That may very well be true from a limited data perspective. But consider this: the data would show that people in large cities are at a higher risk than people in rural areas. Common sense dictates that’s due to the fact that rural residents are more isolated and not involved in as many “risky” activities (going to crowded bars for example). It certainly doesn’t mean that they are somehow immune to contracting it. If we consider the fact that kids have pretty much been isolated from these sorts of situations for 5 months, the data would seem to be lacking important context. If we all of a sudden thrust them into overcrowded schools, we could certainly see the data shift dramatically.
It could end up that everything turns out fine, but wouldn’t it be awful if it doesn’t, and a bunch of kids and their family members become ill or die, all because we put them in a completely preventable situation? You could argue that your kid has been hanging out with friends and playing sports all summer, and nothing bad has happened. I’m glad to hear that, but things are a bit different when they are in close contact with a couple thousand other kids (and all of the people those kids have been in recent contact with) in an enclosed environment.
If schools do not open this fall, there will be some negative aspects. Many families do not have the ability to stay home with their children or find adequate care while they are at work. Many students will struggle to learn material in a virtual situation, and would find more success in a face-to-face environment. Some students will suffer from the social-emotional aspect of not being able to socialize with their peers. It’s ironic that a generation of kids who primarily socialize online would suffer so much from not being around other people IRL, but it’s completely true. These are all unfortunate side effects of not being able to have a “normal” school year, but for a limited amount of time, they simply do not outweigh the dangers of perpetuating the pandemic.
Right now, we have an excellent opportunity to revolutionize the way in which public education is provided. We have already seen many businesses evolve the way they operate. Some of them worried that a shut-down would effectually end their tenure, so they adapted, and may never return to the way things once were. We can do the same with schools, which many feel are antiquated anyway. Hybrid and blended learning environments are the future. In 2000, 8% of college students reported taking at least one online course. In 2018, that number was up to 33%. Remote learning is an inevitable aspect of the future of education, and now is the time to integrate that on a national level.
So what is the best choice for you? Thankfully, many school districts have created options for students that allow either a face-to-face or virtual environment. It’s important to understand what each plan entails and what the expectations will be. In some cases, you may have to declare your choice for the whole semester. In other cases, students may be able to transition from one to the other with ease. Have a discussion with each other and your student, and determine what works best for you. Nothing will be exactly how it was, and certainly nothing will be perfect. In the same way that the rest of the world had to adapt to the new reality we are facing, schools are just now doing the same.