I love my students. Every single one of them. Yes, sometimes teenagers can be exhausting, but they are magnificent and wonderful and full of life and I love that about them. My days are always an adventure and I always learn something new.
This year has been different, though. I’ve heard every excuse in the book this year. Kids who have a parent home sick and they have to medicate them, kids who have to help a sibling in their online classes, kids who have to help translate, kids who have to take care of a baby because their parents both have Covid, kids who are sick, kids with headaches, kids oversleeping, kids who can’t get online…the list is endless.
I have no issue with any of their excuses. Not even one. Even the kids who slept through their alarm clock or cell phone alarm have my sympathy. I don’t always sleep through the night at this point, and sometimes I struggle to be awake and cheerful so I can help them feel welcome in my Zoom class. If it were my real classroom, I would tell them the same thing. If you have a headache, go get some water and then come back and rest your head on the desk for ten minutes and see if you feel better. I get headaches; I know they can be debilitating. If they feel sick but know there is nobody to go home to, I’ll let them curl up with their work in a seat in the corner and lean against the wall so they feel like they have a safe little space in which to exist until they can get some lunch or go home in the afternoon when someone is there. If they are angry, sad, afraid, etc. I help them deal with those feelings. Yes, all while I’m teaching the rest of the class. I know it’s déclassé to be proud of the work I do as a teacher in some circles but I’m proud of the work my coworkers and I do to make kids feel like school is a place where they belong and where they can be exactly who they are while also pushing them to do better academically every day. I also take umbrage at the fact that people think kids would prefer being home, isolated, taking care of family members instead of enjoying their 8th grade year.
The premise that kids are experiencing what people are calling “Covid slide” ignores the fact that some of our kids couldn’t come to school to take advantage of the comfort we could offer them because they have to stay home to take care of a sick parent, or the baby, or any of a dozen other reasons. They offered my students the opportunity to go back in person in what they call a ‘high needs cohort’ and two of the 100+ eighth graders opted in. I understand politicians would like us back because they want schools to be open and they continue to try to use the ‘slide’ as a reason to ignore all the evidence that says if kids go back, when kids go back, they are going to need a lot of social and emotional support. My students are old enough to feel responsible for caring for the sick adult or the baby who can’t go to daycare because someone lost their job and is now working somewhere else for far less money. It isn’t as simple as politicians are making it seem. How could anyone think kids would choose to feel like they are stuck at home taking on responsibilities that shouldn’t be theirs? And yet if you ask a good number of children, not politicians, I think you’ll find a million different answers as to why or why not they think going back in person is a good idea.
To be clear, I’m not advocating for either. I will do what my district and union work out to be the best solution for the children. What concerns me though is the rush to overcome the ‘slide’ without naming it for what it is, our next educational crisis. I honestly don’t have an issue with people having differing opinions and being vehement about theirs being the right one. What I do have an issue with is that as they are updating schools to be physically safe, very few schools I am aware of are planning how to implement some kind of extra support system for their returning students. I am deeply lucky to work in a building of 500 students with two counselors, two discipline management people, a parent liaison, and a staff member who is focused on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), as well as a robust special education staff, and an ongoing weekly time for community building and restorative circles. Our district and city also made sure we had computers for every child and worked with the cable company to push out hundreds and hundreds of hot spots for families that didn’t have internet at home. We are literally teaching some of the best prepared children we possibly could be and we are still unprepared for the consequences the children will be dealing with, some for staying home, some from coming back. I honestly have no idea how anyone thinks this is going to be as simple as opening the buildings and letting kids inside.
I know not all districts are urban centers with the kinds of issues that my students deal with, but I also know my students aren’t dealing with the issues their rural peers are, or their suburban peers are. Anyone who thinks there is a group of children emerging from this unscathed isn’t paying attention to the things kids are saying to each other and anyone who will listen. They can’t sleep, they get angry easily; they don’t find any joy in their old hobbies; they lose track of time; they don’t feel well, and so on. I won’t speak for anyone’s child but I will speak as the teacher of remarkable children and say that when children do go back we, as adults, have to be prepared to do more than try to cram an extra year’s learning into their heads in a few months. They deserve more from us.