Wednesday, January 20, 2021

What School Really Looks Like This Year

When a student fails a class, they get put into course recovery where they have to essentially retake the class and pass it in order to get the credit. Students aren't held back here. Even students who fail all four of their core classes are promoted to the next grade and put into course recovery for all four classes. That's the four failed classes on top of their regular classes for that year.

This year I have seven periods of students in course recovery. Almost all of the kids who did school-from-home for the first semester failed one or more classes. It's painfully obvious that the majority of kids learning from home, were not successful. I don't think anyone would argue that point as the data overwhelmingly shows that kids are more successful with in-person learning. 

Beyond the difficulties with at-home learning (kids who aren't motivated and/or aren't held accountable by parents, kids who don't have reliable internet access, kids who just have a hard time grasping the material when it's taught online, etc.) there's the mental health issue. The unprecedented increase in mental health problems, addiction, and suicidal ideation coupled with limited mental health services in many areas due to Covid-19 is undeniably exacerbated by the isolation that comes with at-home learning.

Now don't get me wrong. I am not, in any way, saying that all kids should be in school, in person, every day. I think there is no one perfect solution to the problem of school during a pandemic. There is no ideal answer. There is nothing that is universally in everyone's best interests, and there's certainly not any one solution that will make everyone happy.

Let me tell you what it looks like in my school. I'm in Florida. In this state, the governor told schools that if they want funding, they have to open up for in-person learning in August. Period. So we did. And I get why this was a blessing for many families. Parents of young children need someone to watch their kids while they work. No school ---> no work ---> no paycheck ---> no money for food or rent ---> homelessness. For many, the thought of financial ruin trumped concerns over safety. Also, parents who worried about their student's mental health at home and parents who were concerned their child wouldn't do well online could send them back to school in person. It's nice that parents in this state had a choice between in-person and at-home learning. They could make the decision that was best (or was the least awful) for their family.

Unfortunately, that left teachers and support staff without any choice. We had to go back to school in person. We had to spend our days in a classroom with 6-7 periods of different students every day. During the first semester, a few teachers were able to apply for a medical exemption that enabled them to teach from home to the students who were learning from home. But when the second semester rolled around and nearly every student was back to school in person, all teachers were ordered back to campus as well. I've honestly lost track of how many teachers from my school have quit since the beginning of this school year. I can think of nine offhand as I write this. Those are nine positions that needed to be/still need to be filled. Now imagine every school in my state having similar staffing problems, and we're all trying to hire teachers from an ever-dwindling pool of candidates.

On top of that, there are the teachers who get sick and are out because of it. There are the teachers who are exposed to someone with Covid and have to stay home to quarantine for several days. And, of course, there are the teachers who need surgery, have dentist appointments, need to stay home with a sick child, have car troubles . . . I've spent the last couple years complaining about a substitute shortage. Ha! Little did I know what we were in for this year. 

According to the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, there were a staggering 11, 571 unfilled absences from August through November. And I know firsthand that it's only gotten worse. Today, for example, at my school there were 12 teachers out. We only had 3 subs so 9 classes were uncovered. Yesterday was the same. This past Friday there were 16 teachers out, 9 of their classes uncovered. Thursday there were 11 uncovered classes. So every day, the secretary has to scramble to get someone to watch every class, every period. Office clerks, librarians, paras, administrators, and other personnel get shuffled into classrooms. I've seen the bookkeeper and secretary cover classes. I honestly wouldn't be surprised to see a lunch lady or a custodian watching a classroom full of kids at this point. 

This year, I've had to cover another teacher's classes in addition to my own seven classes almost every single day. And let me tell you, it is sucking the life out of me! There is very little social distancing when you're combining two classes. Trying to help my 8th graders with their course recovery work in language arts, math, science, and history while explaining ancient Chinese philosophers to a bunch of sixth graders is not fun. Watching sixth graders whose assignment is to play a review game while trying to get 8th graders to focus on a test at the same time is not fun. Telling students a thousand times a day to "pull up your mask!" is not fun. Going to work this year is not fun.

When a bunch of Covid cases hit one school, they close the school for two weeks. They deep clean the building while students learn from home in an effort to stop the spread of Covid before it gets out of control. When this recently happened at a high school in my district, I saw someone on Facebook have a fit about it. She ranted that it was her kid's right to attend school. She was livid they'd briefly closed the school to try to keep people safe. And I shook my head at the absolute self-centered, entitled attitudes of some people. 

These teachers are friggin' rock stars! On top of the ridiculous amount of work they already have, this year they've been juggling teaching the kids who are seated in front of them as well as teaching the kids who are online at home. At the same time! We are all stretched so thin this year, and we're doing our best to make sure your kids are successful, all while trying to ensure everyone follows the guidelines so we can all stay safe and healthy. And when I see some selfish rant from a parent, I've gotta tell ya, I get a pretty impressive urge to throat-punch that parent. 

Whatever the school situation is in your state and your district, for the love of God, show your child's educators some grace. Remember, there is no perfect solution. What makes one person happy will inevitably make others angry and vice versa. We're all trying to navigate these uncharted waters and make the best decisions we can. For most of us in the education system, it has been a tough year no matter how you slice it. So whether you agree with what your state and district are doing or not, please understand that the teachers and support staff are all doing our best with what we have. And we're doing it for your kid. So - Just. Be. Nice.

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