Instruction & Curriculum

When Schools Go Virtual: Don’t Blame the Teachers!

School districts across the country are making decisions about whether or not students will be attending classes in person this fall.  Last night, my district opted for virtual instruction for the first semester of the school year.  Almost immediately after the announcement what was a chorus of praise supporting teachers last spring felt like a reversal.  But remember, when schools go virtual, don’t blame teachers.   
When schools go virtual, don’t blame teachers. Click To Tweet
When the news of a virtual opening broke, the traditional attacks on teachers resumed.  We are lazy.  We work short hours with lots of time off.  We waste time and taxpayer dollars loafing in the faculty room.  We are complainers.  We don’t do enough.
Let me be clear, the institution of public education is broken and needs significant change, but the decision to keep students and staff safe and out of buildings is the only decision to be made right now.  
Despite my disdain for the institution, I love teaching kids.  I love working with them, shaking their hands upon arrival in class, getting to know them, challenging them, and generally interacting with them.  All of the things I love about my job are out the window with the decision to go virtual this fall, and I’d be willing to bet many educators share this sentiment.  It’s not going to make my life easier or the lives of teachers more enjoyable.  But, this will make teachers safer.  However, more importantly, it will make the lives of others in our community safer.  
I’m a parent too.  In fact, my youngest daughter is supposed to head off to kindergarten this fall.  Since the day I dropped her sister off for her first day of kindergarten, I have relished the opportunity to do it again.  It’s a big moment in a young life.  My heart breaks that my youngest, and thousands of other families, won’t get that experience this year.  
I want my kids at school because even as a teacher, I am not as good as their teachers.  My skill set teaching adolescents isn’t the same as teaching elementary age students.  So, I can imagine the incredible burden trying to teach kids from home as a parent with no training or expertise in education.  I teach for a living, and teaching my kids from home drove me wild this spring.
However, COVID-19 is tearing through our communities, spreading at unprecedented levels.  The virus is not receding; it’s expanding.  That is not my, or any teacher’s, choice.  That’s the choice of our society.  We made this decision together.  We have been reluctant to take the virus seriously.  We have been slow and stubborn when it comes to changing our behaviors, and we have been unwilling to be inconvenienced.  
That is not my, or any teacher’s, choice. That’s the choice of our society. Click To Tweet
Schools not opening is a natural consequence of our intransigence.  Don’t blame teachers that schools aren’t open.  We didn’t do it.  There wasn’t a conspiracy afoot where teachers hosted “Covid-19 parties” to spread the virus to keep schools closed.  The teacher’s union wasn’t telling everyone to flock to the beaches for Memorial Day or the Fourth of July.  It wasn’t teachers sending mixed messages telling Americans “to just go out” as the pandemic began in earnest or fighting tooth and nail against wearing a mask.  Teachers didn’t diminish the importance of a robust testing and contact tracing system.  These are things we decided to do as an American community, together.  
And, the American sense of community means we left decisions concerning the community’s health up to individuals.  Now that it isn’t working well, we complain and blame the other guy.  Right now, the other guy is your kid’s teacher.    
It does not have to be this way.  
Look at the world over.  Most countries are cautiously, slowly, and tentatively opening up with new and different behavioral expectations.  The model for reopening exists.  The model for returning to school is out there.  But, those models rely on 3 months of better decision making and cooperation than we have practiced here in America. 
Or, look to teachers.  Teachers spend their days building strong individuals right alongside safe, stable, and harmonious communities.  They work to strengthen the shy kid while trying to humble the arrogant genius, and to be successful, they have to foster communities that function together.  Sure, it falls apart, and teachers complain to their colleagues and friends about how terrible the kids are.  But, the next day, they are back in front of the classroom leading, putting the burden of growth and improvement on their shoulders.  
America would do well to follow the lead of its teachers as opposed to demonizing them.    

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