This Coronavirus pandemic is truly a life-changing event. It is hard to even compare what we are experiencing to any other time period in American history. And, through it all, we know that the truth is that this is fundamentally changing our children. Unfortunately, we don’t how this changing them yet.
So, I posit that the best thing we can do is to adopt the Hippocratic oath—“do no harm”—during this period. Again, I respect the unique pressure that our schools and teachers are under to “reach academic goals” but, I think teachers and parents need to reassess our standard goals and develop new “international pandemic academic goals.”
Here are my suggestions:
Shift to Montessori-Style Learning
I always wanted to send my kids to a Montessori school, where there are more student-driven projects and fewer teacher-driven assignments. In my head, before I had children, the idea of project-based learning was a great idea. But I quickly learned that my children learn best when there’s a specific structure in place. Nevertheless, at home, we do a lot of project-based learning. We just don’t call it project-based learning. We call it playing.
I think this is a wonderful opportunity for public schools to model themselves after Montessori schools and experiment with non-traditional “presentations of learning.” Instead of tests—presentations. Of course, there should be some general standards and guidelines, but I bet the end product would be a great surprise for teachers and students alike. It might also give them a heads up in preparation for college and for life—where the rules are a lot less strict than they are in school.
Regularly Scheduled Synchronous Class
I know I just talked about Montessori and being free and loose with time, but I also think there needs to be some sort of stability and routine. Now I’m not sure what that looks like for every school or every student, but I think it is important to have something each day or each week at the same time for the students. Again, I wanted my children to be better learners in a free field environment—free of time constraints—but alas, that was not best for my children. My children thrive with routine and predictability. I think having just a bare minimum amount of stability would be helpful.
Shift From Grades to Pass/Fail
Grades are already stressful during normal times. In fact, many schools have already done away with grades and now focus on other types of assessments. In the vein of “do no harm,” I think schools should be lowering stress and anxiety for students, which means no grades—at least for the remainder of this year.
No Standardized Tests
Standardized testing is already contentious. Even under the best of circumstances, these tests already have a socio-economic bias—meaning the test predicts more accurately the social and economic class of participants, rather than a student’s ability to learn or what must be done to drive the academic setting. This is not the time to add pressure and to exasperate racial socio-economic inequalities by testing children with standardized tests, especially when we know that the ability for all students to access information has been wholly inadequate.
What if the children had to do a final presentation, art project or video documentary of what they learned or how they would express their experience during this international pandemic? We understand that our children are living in a historic moment and we know the importance of documenting this experience. But I’ve mostly seen schools and parents encouraging kids to use a journal or other traditional models of documenting history.
Some kids will shine with a journal, but not every child expresses themselves best with words on paper. What if we had a variety of artistic options, like a collage or a video diary? Students could keep a record of different days, places, statistics—or whatever they find interesting about life during a pandemic. Whether expressed in words or art, the final project would be centered around what this period meant to our children.
Every student with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) should have that plan amended to create the best possible learning environment for each student. For our children with disabilities, e-learning has created an additional layer of complexity. We have to figure out what accommodations and protocols need to be in place for our children with disabilities to learn with their neurotypical peers.
There is currently no protocol for how children with disabilities can learn and what accommodations they need to be with non-disabled peers using the internet only.
What families are quickly learning is that we are now expected to be the entire special education department for our child(ren). We have to do occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, social work, social-emotional learning, and more. The hardest part for our family is serving as our daughter’s paraprofessional and one-to-one aide. Obviously, this is uncharted territory and none of us know exactly how to make this work. But after two or three weeks, I think it is clear that e-learning is failing our children with disabilities and IEPs. Some parents and teachers are sharing practices that are helpful within their social networks. But the schools need to figure out a way to quickly create Individual Education Plans for e-learning.
Bonus Pay for All Teachers
Lastly, we need to give teachers a huge bonus! Could you imagine your job just suddenly changing and forcing you to adapt and meet all these standards with no preparation in the midst of a national pandemic where you are expected to teach and to keep children calm? I don’t know if it’s a tax write off, a tax credit, or hazard pay—but I think it should be at least $15,000!
Again, we are in unprecedented times, which means none of us really know what we’re doing. But we do know that we need to offer each other grace and some flexibility. I offer these suggestions, humbly. I am not a teacher or school administrator. But I am a parent who cares about my child’s education and their teachers.
To school administrators I ask, for the sake of children and teachers, let's cut everyone a break. This pandemic is terrifying and any anxiety added to school pressures should be alleviated. Let’s just do pass/fail for the rest of the school year and find our way through the rest. The best chance we have to “do no harm” is to relax with school stress.
ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson is the mother of two free-spirited, strong-willed girls and has a husband who should be appointed a saint for co-existing in the madness that is their life. She writes on politics, education, current events and social justice. She is also a taco enthusiast, a proud member of the Bey-hive, and truly believes that she will be receiving her letter from Hogwarts any day now.