What about us. . . . How is it only Tuesday, and I am already exhausted from the week of teaching? If I am already wiped out, what about the students? What about the assessments? What about the assignments? What about the benchmarks? What about the attendance?
There is a popular American pop song titled “What About Us?” by Pink. I recently held a grand conversation with my students on zoom. We listened to the song lyrics and the students were asked to analyze the meaning of the song. As the students typed in their interpretation of the meaning of the song in the chat box, there was a thread of comments that repeated. Many of them were conveying that “what about us” was talking about children. Let’s pause for a moment.
Have we thought about the children when we realigned the guidelines for teaching during a pandemic? Have we truly taken the youth voice into consideration?
Sitting in live zoom classes not only exhausts children mentally, it exhausts them physically. The amount of eye strain, headaches, back pain, etc is emerging among children and adults as we teach and learn this way. While some families have the means to create learning backdrops and different stations within their home or property to provide optimal learning environments, there are millions of children right now that do not have that option. They are living in a crowded apartment, living with multiple families, living out of a car, caring for younger siblings while still being held accountable to attend classes. Children are struggling and are we being responsive to their needs? I assert, with the strict guidelines and laws, we are not listening to the student voice.
The other half of the students thought the lyrics were focused on groups that have been underrepresented in society. So, what about the teachers? Have the teachers truly been consulted about what is best for children right now? In the springtime, teachers were glorified about their efforts in “reimagining learning.”
Eight months later, we are being asked to assess children just like the way we assessed in 2019, in a way that is not conducive to their present way of learning. The 6 week check in benchmarks that have been given to elementary children clearly show that some children are not thriving in these conditions. A colleague of mine that teaches at the secondary level explained that progress reports have doubled in this first grading period than in years past. Grades and scores are plummeting. And this is not only the “school dependent” children. These are children that were high performing that no longer have motivation or engagement in learning. On the other hand, some students are all of a sudden thriving in this virtual setting. The data is inconclusive on how well students are really learning in this pandemic.
Please do not misinterpret this post. I wholeheartedly believe in data, I believe in tracking student achievement growth, and I firmly believe in high expectations for student learning. I was an academic interventionist for 4 years and I know the power of setting goals with students for learning.
However, in these most unusual times of pandemic living, when our world has turned upside down, why have we not modified the way students are learning? What about our 6 week benchmarks, be focused on the social emotional health of our students. Can we take a day of assessing and working with counselors and mental health providers to truly gauge the temperature and climate of each child. Parent teacher conferences gave me more information than the 30 question benchmark test that was given online. The pie graph that displayed mostly red, “below basic” indicated that the children need help, but more than Language Arts test taking skills. What about how to help them work through the trauma of living in a pandemic and what about the missed social interaction with friends. They are being asked to manage their time independently when they mentally have not even developed certain parts of their brain to self monitor and regulate.
Families have shared with me that they are working night shifts, their children are late to zoom in the morning because they are rushing to make breakfast before the parent can get a nap from working all night, single parent families are struggling to pick up meals from schools, internet is not working, and the list goes on. These realities are not going away. These are the ugly truths that cannot be forgotten.
In the lyrics, Pink sang,
“We are billions of beautiful hearts, and you sold us down the river too far,
What about us?
We are children that need to be loved
We were willin', we came when you called
But, man, you fooled us, enough is enough, oh
What about us?”
I am not willing to give up on these children but I am also not willing to follow the usual protocols of the school year. Teachers and children are starting to lose steam. Parents are losing steam. Self care and “me” time is not going to solve this issue this year. Children need support, teachers need support, local and state level leadership need support.
I wonder if we were to look back in time, what was it like for families when soldiers returned home after World War II? How did the children of soldiers reassimilate to their everyday life? How did family life change or did it go back to the way it was? I would think changes were made, priorities were realigned, and families had to adjust.
After fighting this pandemic war, I hope we can all say that we thought about all of the groups that have been impacted. In order to do so, something must change. Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”
So what is working in the pandemic for distance learning? Building classroom communities, conversations with children, short sprints of academic content instead of an hour long of zoom content, student celebrations of reading an actual paperback book, and taking risks to share ideas with classmates they have never met through a digital platform. These are the wins that I want to celebrate in distance learning that only I can see on a screen.
In this time, let’s truly put children first in education. Above all mandates and charges, let’s pledge to provide love and trust in our classroom communities, in our homes, in our “pandemic pods." This is what will matter to this generation of pandemic learners long after the 2020 school year has passed. If we are successful in our pledge and our kids ask “What about us,” we will be able to look them in the eye and say “Yes children, it is about you!”