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Here we are. In the midst of a global pandemic. And in many places in our country, schools are moving online (or at least parents have that option). As schools shut down (at least physically and we've moved into at home learning) and parents have to work……the cracks in our system are becoming more obvious, and everyone is looking for solutions. One of the those solutions? The much debated learning pods. Small groups of children working with a teacher or adult to facilitate their learning so that their parents are able to work. Now, hold on here. Before you get upset. This isn't really about the pods. In fact, I get it. I get WHY the pods are happening.
One of the major concerns being expressed about learning pods? The inequity of it all. What about families who can't afford to pay for a pod (or for that matter families who can't afford internet)? What about children with IEPs or 504s? Are they included? Are their needs met? What about children with behavioral issues? Does anyone want THAT KID in their pod? Probably not if we're being totally honest.
So here we go. My thoughts. As a 15 year veteran teacher currently on sabbatical, as the wife of a teacher and the mother of a first grader.
THE LEARNING PODS AREN'T THE PROBLEM. THEY'RE A SYMPTOM OF A BROKEN SYSTEM.
The thing is, our educational system has been broken for a long time. The general public is just seeing the cracks in the foundation. The haves and the have nots.
Last year, we moved from the Los Angeles area where I was a teacher for 15 years in low performing schools to the San Diego area. When we bought a house (for the first time mind you in our forties — thanks public school teacher salary)…….we researched neighborhood schools very carefully. We picked a home in the area of an amazing, high performing school. I'm thankful every day that my daughter is a student there. Like most parents, given the choice….I want my child to have the BEST resources I can provide (which is exactly why I understand the formation of learning pods, we all want to give the best to our kids).
As we navigated the move, our family decided it was best for me to take a couple years off of teaching so that I could be involved in my daughter's school. During the first week of school, I attended a PTA meeting. As with all PTA meetings, the budget is public knowledge. As I sat in the meeting, latte in hand (man this new life was sweet)……I flipped through the pages and eyed the budget. Keep in mind, I'd helped with the budget at my old school for years. I knew what the PTA at our school had fundraised. And when I saw the bottom line for THIS PTA? I almost spit out my overpriced latte. I had always known. But there it was. The contrast of haves and the have nots……slapped me right in the face.
As a parent, I'm so glad my daughter's school has amazing programs. I support them, and value what they give to their students. As an educator, I think back to fifteen years of students who never received those same opportunities. Even as we filled out grant after grant application, our school simply couldn't support programs that schools in higher income areas support through parent and neighborhood donations.
So here we are. Back to the learning pods. And the distance learning. And everyone is talking about the inequity. And guys, a small part of me wants to say……WHERE HAVE Y'ALL BEEN? This isn't new. But, I'm sure glad we're talking about it now.
My thoughts. Do I have answers? Some. Do I have questions? Yes I do.
Who are we voting for? Our elected officials control federal funding and the President controls the nomination for the Secretary of Education (it is confirmed by the Senate). A good portion of school funding (including special education programs and policies, programs for English Language Learners, and teacher student ratio parameters) are affected by federal policy and funding. So who you vote for? Will effect the public school funding in your neighborhood.
Can we support our own children and also support those in greater need? Listen, I'm not telling you to NOT support your children or their school. PLEASE DO. Because teaching at a high or low performing school? Is still one of the toughest jobs and one of the most important. Because teachers at all schools still spend their own money on supplies and projects every year. Because, it's important to support the angels among us who support our children. But, let's keep the kids in mind who's families don't have that same ability. Donate to organizations that support children and schools in need. Do backpack drives. Call a lower performing school in your area and ask if they need volunteers once a week or once a month. Attend their school fundraisers as well as your own.
Are our measures of success aligned with our values? There are a million ways that our educational system is systemically inequitable. But one of them? Our method of testing children. Now bear with me. I'm a data person. I was a data obsessed teacher too. But we've built these markers of success that every child has to hit every year despite the fact that the starting line isn't in the same place for all. Imagine a third grader. My own daughter in third grade? Her mom is a former teacher and literacy specialist. She's travelled a ton. She has an entire home library. She reads above grade level. Now compare her to a student whose parents are unable to read. Or whose parents are working two jobs (the day and night shift). Who can't afford a home library. Who is tired because they live in an apartment building and it's loud at night. Or who is hungry. Now my daughter and this student? They'll take the same test. At the end of third grade. With the same expectations. How does that make sense? Why aren't we testing children based on where they started the year. Because any great teacher can tell you……growth is growth. As a nation, we need to adopt a growth mentality. A focus on positive movement instead of reaching the finish line. This would be a more inclusive educational option.
Listen to the Experts. One of my biggest concerns right now is our lack of ability to admit we are not experts. I'm not a scientist. So, do I actually know about the spread of this virus? Or should I be listening to those who are experts? Teachers are EXPERTS. We spend our lives honing our craft. We taking crying 5 year olds and turn them into KINDERGARTNERS. We take struggling to sound it out kids and turn them into readers and lovers of literature. We know about childhood trauma, and we know your kids as well as we know our own. We cry when your families face tragedy, and we celebrate your successes right along with you. We also KNOW that no matter how hard each of us tries, our system needs to be reformed and changed and adjusted. We also know what schools need the most and what resources are missing. ASK. Ask your child's teacher what resources they're lacking. Ask if they have a friend at a school in need. Trust me, they'll have an answer for you (and bonus, buy a nice teacher gift…..they deserve it).
The good news is……we're asking the questions. We're aware of the issues. Now? We need to start figuring out what to do next.