It’s the second week of February and I need your help. First to get back in the classroom or on the playing field I and my fellow coaches and teachers need vaccinations now, like pick up the Bat phone and call Sonoma Hospital today and tell them you are prioritizing vaccinations for teachers so that schools can reopen. Once that’s done, I need you to clear the way for a complete return to in-person learning for what’s left of the school year. Finally, I need you and Tony Thurmond to work on articulated standards for grade levels so that teachers can establish what this crisis has done to education.
And oh yes, there will be bumps, but the best way to overcome bumps is planning in advance for how to blow them up. Many think hybrid learning is the answer but why is my classroom dangerous at one level of infection and safe at another? It is not, exposure is exposure. The answer is simple, vaccinate teachers then see how many want to return and how many students want to return and plan accordingly. Many teachers and students will not be willing to return to their classrooms out of fear or misinformation or Corona brain (We have built the plane and are flying it as best we can and now it feels like we are being blamed for not wanting to build another plane).
I suggest keeping those teachers and students at home working remotely. If the ratios don’t add up, figure out another plan, move fast, break stuff, it’s not like the year will already be an asterisk * year in the history books.
But I’m not done, stop pouring money into the technology pile I have growing in my classroom (giant screen TV, air purifier, tripod, earbuds, IPAD, new furniture) and give teachers a 50% raise right now. What you will do in one stroke of the pen is completely change the educational system in California. Because with this increase of salary will come a few new responsibilities and expectations for teachers. I can help with the details later but bottom line if I am making 105k/year instead of 70k/year I will have more time to work, create and connect. I won’t have to maintain the side hustles plus I will be more interested in trainings and enrichment.
More importantly, the whole field of teaching will attract a higher quality of worker who couldn’t afford to go into teaching previously because of the pay (yes, this is a real thing).
And can we address academic loss? I mean, I’ve been doing my best to fly the plane but it has been sputtering. As I’ve said before this has been the toughest and least rewarding teaching year in my 25-year career and a big part of that is academic loss. Sure, I’ve modified my curriculum like never before and am constantly working to perfect the standards/nurturing balance which has never been more important but overall, I have failed (luckily failure is learning to me and so what I do next is where I want to focus).
My simple suggestions, do what I do at the beginning of each grading period, take the California State Standards, devise a grade level expectation diagnostic (one that is evaluated not graded), establish a baseline and a target finish line then spend the rest of the year and maybe the summer filling in the holes. Sure, it sounds easy but it’s not because treating each student individually, developing an ILP (Individualized Learning Plan), and filling in each hole is tough, plus you’re fighting years of bad habits. But the results are sometimes fantastic and individual connection has never been more vital.
Here’s a great example taken from my Algebra class earlier in the year. Johnnie had failed Algebra twice at the high school so he entered the alternative program to try one more time to pass so he can graduate. Because of small classes his teacher discovered that he not only doesn’t know his times tables, he doesn’t comprehend the vocabulary heavy textbook and he thinks of himself as stupid especially in math. The teacher devised an ILP for Johnnie which included motivation, building confidence, showing how Algebra is used in the real world and convincing Johnnie that some fundamentals like times tables are really important. And hey, look at that, Sal Kahn has simple tutorials about how to learn your times tables plus there are about a gazillion videos by teachers only a click away.
Then it’s all rainbows and flowers, right? Wrong. That’s what you see on Social Media but in reality, it’s a struggle and there will be bumps to blow up but if one can turn a reluctant learner into a kinda-maybe-thinking-about-becoming-a-lifelong-learner then your work is done and you can turn to the other 60 kids on your caseload. Sisyphusian? Yes. Rewarding? Also, yes.
The education system was in trouble before the pandemic. But with new leadership (finally, a secretary of education who understands the struggle) and a first lady who teaches Zoom classes from the White House, things will change.
But first, get those vaccines into teacher’s arms pronto.