It is impossible to go “back to school” this year. Whatever it is that we are moving towards is not the school we left, and there’s no going back. That could be good news.
Some teachers have already started to explore, hiking towards what’s next, while others are preparing for a trek for which no one truly knows how to prepare. If we’re lucky, we’ll get two hours of training on the Learning Management Software du jour, two hours of Information Technology Support 101, an hour and a half of a Social Emotional Learning/Trauma/Antiracism slideshow, then bam! We’ll be placed in a landscape as unfamiliar as a classroom on the moon.
Much of that falls outside of the things that teachers control, and to be fair, we’re used to that. Few systems could have possibly been prepared for such dramatic events and circumstances.
But what of the things that do live in the realm of what teachers can do to prepare to be effective as we begin teaching this fall?
- Should we spend time revisiting lessons and units to identify elements that need to be rewritten for virtual instruction?
- Should we be writing multiple iterations of each lesson — virtual, in-person, hybrid — just in case a switch is made mid-unit?
- Should we spend time as a class discussing what device each student is using to get out in front of being helpful with tech support?
- Should we share elements of our own struggles, emotions and experiences from the impacts of COVID-19?
- Should we try to create a space of ‘normalcy’ for the short time we get with our students, or does that ignore the stark realities we need to be addressing?
It is overwhelming and challenging to consider how we should be preparing, but it is thankfully less challenging to see why it is important we do not plan to “go back to school” as we previously knew it.
- We should not go back to a time where simply stating the most basic of facts — that Black Lives Matter — seemed controversial and certainly not something to discuss at faculty meetings, team meetings, or as an essential element to planning all subjects.
- We should not go back to a time when the essential role teachers played in society was considered minimal, or worse, rarely considered at all.
- We should not go back to a time when the labor of teachers was taken for granted — the extra hours of planning, cleaning, shopping, calling, emailing — not about grades or homework, but about needed food, counseling, clothes, family support, tutoring, coaching, and more.
- We should not go back to a time when the voices of teachers and school leaders grew hoarse from crying out about harm of the size of the digital divide, the lack of equitably distributed resources, and understaffed schools, year after year after year.
We should not go back. We should go forward.
It is likely best to leave the examination of why it took a global health emergency to shine a light so brightly on these subjects that their mere existence was brought into the mainstream to the historians and social scientists. But we don’t need to wait for anyone to tell us that no matter how we got here, there’s no going back.
It’s important to grieve. The old adage “You gotta feel it to heal it,” is real. If you’re still in the throes of processing or mourning the loss of a schema that helped shape your identity and make life more predictable than it has felt in months, it’s important not to rush or belittle that experience. Lean into that grief, and then remember, moments like these offer incredible opportunities for real and lasting change.
Real and lasting change is on the horizon and looks like it could possibly be bringing the dawn of a new day for what it means to be a teacher.
It may not be possible to identify the series of legacies, choices, and decisions that led to silence around issues of white supremacy and racism in schools or school systems, but we can choose to act and speak and work to ensure we never go back.
It may not be possible to investigate the assumptions made by many that led to the de-professionalization of the work of a teacher, but we can commit to work together to ensure that we never go back.
It is possible to recognize lasting change that is demanding of us a reality where it doesn’t have to be that way anymore.
If we want to go far into a more just future, we must go together. The teachers of The Educators’ Cooperative know this well.
Thanks to The Educators’ Cooperative, teachers from public, private, and charter schools from all over the region spent countless hours this summer collaborating, connecting, planning, sharing, learning, and growing together. At our 5th annual Summer Workshop, on our daily hour-long video unconferences, national virtual workshops on antiracist teaching, learning, and leading from the classroom — we embodied the notion that we can go forward into a better future than the one we left behind in March.
We were flooded with feedback that reminds us that we are better together. One teacher said, “The more I connect, the more empowered I feel! If we can create these small units of change, imagine the lasting impact we can have on our students and in our schools!” Another added,
“I am floored by the amount of empowerment, connection, and support that has flooded into both me and my teaching practice! EdCo has reminded me time and time again that this work is worth doing and that education, by nature, is ever-evolving.”
There’s no going back, and that’s OK, because we have each other and a future full of more potential for us and our students than at any point we’ve experienced before. If you’re a teacher, we hope to see you on a call or in a workshop soon.