This week, teachers all over the country are holding demonstrations protesting plans to re-open schools for in-person learning. Obviously, there’s heated debate everywhere about how to handle the new school year. A teacher friend of mine shared her thoughts with me anonymously because she fears she could lose her job if she stated them publicly. She speaks candidly about challenges we haven’t often heard voiced in the public conversation, so with her permission I’ll share her reflection:
If your child’s teacher is teaching in class *and* via webcam all day, do your child a favor and raise hell. We are not one-man bands. We are not circus performers. We are not entertainers or Swiss Army knives or childcare providers.
If your child’s teachers are teaching both ways at the same time, don’t think for a second that they will be effective, no matter how hard they try. It is not possible.
The fact they are even being asked to do this should also piss you off. Children are not mini-adults, elementary schools are not colleges, and teachers are not professors. Children cannot attend to streaming classes.
Anyone who’s ever taken an online class knows it’s an entirely different experience. You have to monitor your own focus. You have to manage your own environment.
If you’ve taken an online class, you probably also know that you paid attention to maybe half of it and taught yourself the rest. Because you can do that. Because you’re a grownup who knows how to filter when you must attend and when you can zone out. Because you know how to hold yourself accountable for making up the work. Because you know which corners you can cut and which ones you can’t.
Children don’t know how to do this. We—the adults supposedly in the room, even though everyone seems to be out on an endless smoke break—are supposed to know this about children.
I have kids I call back to attention by the minute. I don’t mind. I love them. But I can’t do that in this potential new scenario. And once I lose their attention, they’re gone. There won’t be a lot of chaos. There will be a lot of radio silence, whether they kids are in school or online.
Classrooms Should Be Holy Places, Even Online
Covid messed up our ecosystem and we did our best to adapt. We can continue to do that. But if our ecosystem is messed up even more by inviting all kinds of unwanted guests into our online classrooms, don’t be surprised when things crumble. They will.
Classrooms are, and should be, holy places. We teachers work hard to build a place where once the door is shut, the kids can unwind and ask their questions, talk about their worries and fears, and learn through and beyond their past negative educational experiences. This doesn’t come free. Everything has a cost, and the cost for this kind of trust between teacher and student is: Leave us be.
You’re welcome as a visitor. You’re not welcome as a Big Brother black box recording every word for scrutiny. Most parents don’t scrutinize, so you may be reading this, thinking, “It can’t be that bad.” To you I say: You. Have. No. Idea.
Classrooms are, and should be, holy places. Teaching really is an art. The relationships we build with our students are special. When talking about high schoolers, frankly, those classrooms work much better when they don’t include parents. We have relationships with parents, but they’re different.
Last year my high school students and I started each class by meditating to Peter Gabriel’s song, “Solsbury Hill.” We picked it together. Sometimes one of the kids would cry. Sometimes I would. The song made us feel sad, brave and strong, all at the same time. That’s why we chose it.
This year we were going to do Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” Again, we picked it together. But there’s no way I’ll do this knowing that parents are in and out of the room. Some parents would be fine with it; some wouldn’t. One more thing the kids love, scrapped.
None of this is what kids need or deserve. We’re pretending children can watch a live stream teacher in a classroom for eight hours so we can kickstart an economy. It’s irresponsible. It’s even more irresponsible when we add in that these children had no part in screwing up the economy, which was in trouble long before COVID-19.
Women have been the sacrificial lambs on the altar of the economy forever; now, children themselves are in line. Yes, I know they don’t get sick the same way, so we’re not sending them to the schools to die. We can all pat ourselves on the back for that one. But we’re also not sending them to school to learn, which is the purpose of schools. We’re sending them in an effort to fix our broken economy.
Maureen Kelleher is Editorial Director at Future Ed. She was formerly Editorial Partner at Ed Post and is a veteran education reporter, a former high school English teacher, and also the proud mom of an elementary student in Chicago Public Schools. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. Between 1998 and 2006 she was an ...