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Coronavirus What Ifs

Jenn Drake, Early Elementary Teacher

Whenever I talk to people whose whole life isn’t wrapped up in education, like mine, they bring up how much has been lost this year for students around the world.  I completely agree that school closures have made a huge impact on children and their families.  Stability, structure, predictability and care have gone out the window for many students who are still learning remotely.  Friendships have suffered.  Learning how to interact with other people isn’t possible.  Support for interests outside of academics has been taken away, as kids can no longer enjoy their sports and activities.  It is really sad when you look at it that way.

I don’t particularly worry about children “losing” academics or being “behind” because I understand that all kids grow and learn over time.  All the standards we’ve put in place for them are arbitrary anyway.  Many of them are important markers that should be met, but when and how isn’t so critical.  In many ways, this pandemic has given kids opportunities to learn in different ways, to connect with their families, and to discover the ancient art of boredom.  What does worry me is the mentality that kids are behind.  That we’ve lost an entire generation.  Sheesh.  That’s a bit dramatic.  And negative.  And it’s going to have an impact.

Teachers are under so much pressure already to have their students pass the state-mandated, standardized tests each year.  They must get their students to perform to standards.  If they don’t, their jobs are on the line.  So what happens when all these children return to school next year and haven’t met the standards from the previous year, let alone the new ones presented?  Teachers are going to be working harder to get kids to standard.  And that could mean every minute is going to be spent for that one purpose.  All the things that kids lost from not going to school – friends, community, social skills, communication, athletics, the arts – might not be going to come back.  They could be lost for the sake of getting everyone “back on track.”  That would be a sad state of affairs for our children.  

I hope that things don’t turn out that way.  I hope that this pandemic has given everyone time to rethink and reimagine what education is and what it could be.  What would happen if we let go of these markers of success and redefined what success looks like?  What if we saw value in those other interests and supported our children to follow them?  How might their lives turn out differently?  Why not take a deep look at these standards and ask ourselves how essential they are?  Maybe we could still teach the basics without all the pressure to perform a certain way.  I hope that we’ve learned something from covid that helps us better support our students and give them a chance to succeed – maybe in a new way.  

When schools shut down, I thought to myself, “What we’re teaching kids is that when something scary happens, you go home, close your door, and don’t go outside.”  That’s not the lesson I want kids to walk away with.  Instead, what if we took this opportunity to revise our way of looking at things and doing things?  We could teach our kids that when bad, scary things happen, you can face them and reflect and learn and grow.  If we could learn that lesson, nothing would be lost, but a whole lot would be gained.