Guest post by Kris Jenkins

“Education in a shambles” Guest post by Kris Jenkins, @Prek33

Opinions expressed are those of the guest contributor

You really have to not be paying attention very hard if you are unable to see the looming crisis in the education world. Pre-pandemic, there were very loud rumblings over concerns about funding, class size, topics of learning in the upper grades, and even book-banning. Teachers were struggling then, with the enormous weight of standardizing testing, class size, antiquated buildings, and heaps and heaps of initiatives piled upon other initiatives added to their proverbial plates.

Approximately two years ago, Covid came in and kicked educators in their fannies! I remember it well. On Friday, we had an all-staff meeting, telling us how things would look different on Monday. We had to just get through that next week and then we’d be on Spring Break. That Monday never came. Buildings were closed down in Kansas that weekend. And the teachers and their students cried! If I had known that would have been the last time I saw those sweet kiddos, I would have laughed at little more and hugged them a little tighter.

This led to educators across the world changing the manner in which they were teaching. It brought to light the gross inadequacies of virtual teaching. Did the teachers give up? NO! That’s who we are! It’s built into most of our DNA. While most teachers were dealing with their own mental health issues from this worldwide plague, they STILL went above and beyond to try and reach their students, innovating their methods of instruction on the fly. The world was in crisis. And teachers….just kept on teaching. It’s what we do!

Two years, and lots of adaptations, later we are back in our classrooms. Here’s the thing, though. Teachers are not the same as they were, pre-pandemic. Children are not the same as those that we taught, pre-pandemic. The way we clean up in our classrooms is not the same as it was, pre-pandemic, the families of our students are not the same as they were, pre-pandemic. Nothing is the same! All of us have suffered mental health crises due to this pandemic.

Guess what didn’t change. The number of students in a classroom, but teachers were still supposed to “socially distance” them. Standardized testing didn’t change. It was developmentally inappropriate and had severe class and ethnic deficiencies. The mental health of our students and teachers is at the forefront of this crisis. School leaders are preaching self-care, while teachers and students still have the same expectations, that were already in question, pre-pandemic.

What did change? The socialization of our children and their families. Our students, now, have very different social experiences than their friends before them, Those play-dates, going out to eat, shopping, everything that involved social interactions was gone. Our kids don’t know how to act in social settings because they never had a chance to practice acceptable behaviors in public. Yet teachers are expected to teach a given set of standards, with little or no regard for the social/emotional stages of our kids!

Our campus is currently doing a book study over Maslow Before Bloom. I love this book! In the very introduction of this book, Dr. Bryan Pearlman says, “If a student is hungry, exhausted, scared, traumatized, disconnected, lonely, or feeling like a failure, it will be difficult for that student to achieve at their highest capacity. BOOM! This is ALL of our students! Let me share this graphic with you all:

Take a really close look at this. This is the last time our students had a “normal” school year. If this doesn’t stop you in your tracks, I don’t know what will. Personally, this breaks my heart, especially for our students. Humans, by nature, are social creatures and the pandemic took all of that away. And the teachers? They kept on teaching, doing their best to provide a routine and learning for these children. It’s what we do!

Let’s look at those teachers for a moment. They were already teaching the “assembly line” curriculum from the big box curriculum companies. They already had to teach to learning standards that were not developmentally appropriate for their students. They were already teaching in buildings that had serious structural deficiencies.

Enter Covid. Teachers were tasked with finding a way to deliver instruction to children who couldn’t leave their homes! Read that again: Couldn’t leave their homes. How did teachers, then, meet the needs of these students, when everyone was home-bound. With not much direction at all, the teachers devised a plan (Not the administration, teachers).

This is what happened in my case, anyway.

  • Monday: Video chat (Individually)
  • Tuesday-Read aloud
  • Wednesday- a scavenger hunt. Post your pictures to our class Facebook page
  • Thursday-another read-aloud
  • Friday-Zoom Sing-Alongs (which were hilarious, by the way) My students were so excited to see their friends and talk to them!

And teach them we did. We also went to their homes. While the student stood in the doorway. We stood on their porches and read them a story. We had families that would ask for an extra check-in, and we’d do it. Was there a directive for us about this method of teaching? No. Teachers found a way to make it happen because we love our kids!

Teachers put the needs of their students above everything else. I, for one, was really afraid I would bring the virus home, which would be problematic because my husband is a heart patient. I’m not the only teacher who felt this way. Thousands of us put our own health and safety, and that of our families, on the line each and every day we walked through the doors of our buildings. Did anything change? Nope. Our students still have the same expectations as they did, pre-pandemic. We’re still expected to teach the same standards, in the same order as we did, pre-pandemic. Well, guess what?? We aren’t the same and our kids are definitely not the same. Our kids have lost the ability to socialize. It was taken from then by Covid. This ridiculousness needs to stop! We need to give our kids the tools that they need to help them navigate their social/emotional healing from living through this. We need to appreciate our teachers for putting their very lives, and the lives of their families, on the line each and every day. We need to Maslow the living daylights out of these students before we can teach them to Bloom!

Teachers are leavening the profession in droves. Why? Lack of support from building and district administration, classroom behaviors, developmentally inappropriate educational expectations, larger class sizes, building social workers being spread thin, covering for other teachers who are out of our buildings, standardized testing (Our kids are not “standard kids.” Why should we be assessing them with standardized testing?) If there is not a drastic shift away from traditional instruction to trauma-informed practices, I’m not sure how long our current education system can hold on.

There has been a massive wave of teachers leaving this noble profession. In our case, at my location, we have not been fully staffed all school year. Kansas even went so far as to take away the 60 hours of college coursework required to be a Guest Teacher (substitute teacher) in our buildings. Now, all you need to do to be a Guest Teacher is to pass the background check and have a high school diploma, and still, we are not fully staffed. And let’s not even go into how this makes someone with years of experience and a degree(s) feel. (The mentality of “well, it looks like lawmakers think anyone can teach” is running rampant! This is not a way to help your veteran teachers feel valued.

A culture of care is necessary. If we could do this, schools would become a healthier place for all stakeholders. Students would thrive emotionally, academically, and socially. Staff needs to be supported, connected, and able to self-regulate. The entire system would improve.

This can’t go on. It can’t continue. Something has to change, but it’s going to need to be something, not just on a local level, but on a nationwide level. Our students and their families deserve better. Let’s face it. Without those students and their families, none of us would even be teaching. Teaching isn’t just a job. It’s a calling, and those of us still doing this noble work should be seen and heard. Not “feel” like they’re seen and heard. Really be seen and heard. There’s a huge difference!

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