My classroom is such an important part of the learning process, yet now it sits empty.

Returning to “Normal”

Melissa Girmscheid Education, Education Policy, Parent Involvment, Teacher Leadership, Uncategorized

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Four excruciatingly long weeks ago, we left our classrooms.

My classroom is such an important part of the learning process, yet now it sits empty.

My classroom is such an important part of the learning process, yet now it sits empty.

So much has happened in those four weeks. Educators, meaning all of us who work in the school system, have scrambled to find ways to maintain connections with our students while remaining at home. We’ve tried, as much as we can, to continue the learning.

We’ve asked, repeatedly, when will things go back to normal?

Do we want them to return to that normal? This crisis education mode has put the spotlight on issues within our current system. When we return to classrooms and campuses, wouldn’t it be the perfect time to fix some of these issues? What happens when we go back?

You’ve most likely seen at least one news story over the past few weeks about laptops. Districts lending them, organizations taking donations, everyone trying to get these into the hands of students. Districts lent laptops, one per family, leaving students at the mercy of their siblings to get their work finished. Forget about signing in for synchronous classes in those situations. A mobile hotspot donation drive was announced to put 200 hotspots into the hands of Arizona K-12 students. Arizona has approximately 1,000,000 K-12 students across the state, meaning 200 hotspots will allow 0.02% to connect to the internet if they have a laptop.

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The “normal” in my classroom uses computers as the catalyst for discussion, not the substitute.

What about before the closure? If teachers were assigning homework that required the use of the internet, or something to be typed, was this ever taken into consideration? Connectivity is not something students can control, and stating that they can go to the library or stay late at school ignores the fact that often these same students are the ones riding the bus home each day.

Learning from home also assumes that students’ living environments are conducive to learning, that they have a place to learn, free from distractions. It implies that students are not working to support their families during this time of economic uncertainty. These same situations existed when our students were in the classroom each day and may have been the reason that that homework assignment was never submitted. We cannot control the living environments of our students, but we can control our expectations outside the classroom.

One of the hardest things about this time of crisis education is the loss of the personal connection. Our students have not only lost their connection with the supportive adult on their campuses, but also the connection with their peers. Student-to-student communication is an important part of the learning process, and something significantly lacking as our students learn from home. Did we consider these relationships to be an important part of the physical classroom? I always ask myself if I have done enough to build that rapport with my students and as a learning team. If you are asking students to participate in discussions on Google Classroom, but not in the physical classroom, why not?

These students whose voice may have been lost include our English language learners and our exceptional needs students. Meeting their needs through crisis education has been, to say the least, difficult. What about when we are in the classroom? Are their voices heard? Do they have everything they need to be successful? Have we provided them with the tools to reach their learning potential?

Critical thinking provides our students with a tool to survive adversity, yet it isn't tested.

Critical thinking provides our students with a tool to survive adversity, yet it isn’t tested.

We are depending on our parents to be the learning supervisors during this period, to help their children navigate these waters. I think this partnership with families is fantastic, and has the potential to build something truly spectacular. Schools can be the center of community, and if we find ways to involve parents in that community, we can build something special.

Above all, as I design learning opportunities for my students, it has led me to reflect on my content and pare it down to what is truly important. What could we, as a system, change to reflect the greater needs of our students and our future society? We teach what we do, in the way that we do, because of standardized testing. No standardized test has shown if my students can plant and care for a garden, if they can console a family member, or if they can repair a leaking toilet. Removing testing from the equation would allow us to transform education into something that values creativity and critical thinking so that we can face adversity such as this.

With all that we have spotlighted during this crisis, do we want to go back to normal? I know that I will make changes in my classroom, but I hope we can affect greater change throughout the system.

What will you change?

 

 

I am a passionate advocate for physics education. This is my eleventh year of teaching high school students about the world around them through the study of physics and I carry this passion to my secondary job developing and leading Computational Modeling in Physics First with Bootstrap workshops. I am a Master Teacher Policy Fellow with the American Institute of Physics and the American Association of Physics Teachers. In 2019, I worked with a team of Arizona physics superstars to successfully lobby for ongoing education funding for STEM and CTE teachers. My goal is to ensure every student in Arizona has access to high-quality physics education. I am grateful to the Arizona K12 Center for their support during my National Board Certification process and am paying it forward as a district Candidate Support Provider and new teacher mentor. I believe in the power of Modeling instruction, student-centered learning, and the Five Core Propositions.

Comments 6

  1. Nicole Wolff

    Great read! I completely agree, this crisis in an opportunity for reflection. What has this experience taught us about essential learning and best practices? I hope as a system, we truly reflect and resist the urge to go back to business as usual.

  2. Jess Ledbetter

    I loved this piece and I think it asks a very important question: Do we want to return to the old “normal” or co-create a new one? I read an article that calls this time “The Great Pause”–an opportunity for the United States to decide what we want going forward. I have been interested to read about how our culture of “no stopping” has contributed to our responses during COVID-19. As a country, we accept non-stop work at all hours of the day in most professions. Sadly, this has bled into the teaching profession as well as to family life when piles of homework are assigned to our students. Parents ASK for that much work for their kids and somehow think that schools “aren’t challenging enough” if they aren’t assigning that much work. I would like to see American families demand LESS homework for their kids going forward. Research about best homework practices rarely gets applied and this is a disservice to our students. One of my previous student’s mom told me a story about how she asked for no homework for her older son for a short period while my student had a broken leg with many extra doctor’s appointments. The parent was telling me the story to share that it had been the “best time in their family life to spend evenings together without homework stress and fighting.” That moment was a big glimpse into family life for me and I have not forgotten it. I think the non-stop workload of teaching in the US is also dramatically affecting teacher retention. For the money districts are spending recruiting, hiring, and training teachers to fill the abandoned positions, I think we should invest that money into lowering class size and retaining more teachers. I hope that many people add their comments here about what they would like to see changed as we co-create our new “normal.” Thanks for getting this conversation started!

  3. Susan Collins

    I love this! This gives us the perfect opportunity to gather data on inequities and real life learning/teaching in the absence of testing. We have the chance to get hard data to facilitate sustainable policy changes. Let’s do this!

  4. Beth Maloney

    Excellent points, Melissa! This is such an equity issue that many people have chosen to ignore, and these sudden circumstances are shining a glaring light on what some people don’t want to see. I am changing the way I am developing relationships, for one, and also trying to shine a light on these inequities.

  5. Rachel Perugini

    When I tell people that some of my students don’t have electricity or running water, let alone internet, I get weird looks. People don’t understand that the issues facing our students are bigger than access to a computer. My department has focused on 1 assignment a week to not overload our students, and even with that, I’m at about 40-50% completion. I’ve heard from parents working at the hospital, kids living with grandparents, students so bored at home they’re asking for more work. I don’t know how we fix these problems now, but I know that next year I’ll try to be more patience and focus on the human in all this.

  6. Kyle Bragg

    Thanks for the excellent blog, Melissa!

    You bring up some great points. I think many districts will look at what is going on now and make some adaptations for when we get back to “normal”. Things like meetings, which, in my case, have actually improved and increased efficiency through zoom.

    You’re right about being challenging to meet all the students’ needs, especially the ELL students or the students who don’t have access to tech. I’m just trying to make it as equitable as possible and do my very best for the students, all while giving a little more grace as I understand the difficult situation for many.

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