A once in a lifetime pandemic. A once in a lifetime opportunity. Teaching in the year 2020 reminds me of a quote from “Inherit the Wind:” “Perhaps it is you who has moved away by standing still.” All at once our world was completely halted by a global pandemic the worst in 100 years and yet in a moment of crisis an opportunity to create appeared. Are we going to move away from progress by standing still?
In March, Baltimore City Public Schools, and my sixth grade class, shifted to online learning. In the blink of an eye teachers became tech support, problem solvers and the other many intricate titles we claim even when there isn’t a public health crisis. This shift online for teachers provided opportunities and obstacles. While we’re still trying to mitigate and understand these obstacles, let us dream about the opportunities before us.
Education has always seemed like the path toward the American Dream: go to school, get a good education and have the job of your choice. The issue however is that education hasn’t changed with the rest of America. Sure, there have been slight changes (whole language reading, basal readers, phonics, the science of reading), but you could argue that for many Black, Brown and students with disabilities that education has not worked for them or their families. Money has been thrown at the problem—then taken away or outright blocked. The results speak for themselves. According to recent data by Baltimore’s Promise, 57 percent of Baltimore City 11th graders are not reading on a high school level—far below expectations.
Data like this is compelling for several reasons but none more obvious than the fact that roughly 80 percent of Baltimore City public school children are Black, and the fastest growing student population is Brown. Historical (you could argue racial) data also supports the idea that Black and Brown students are more likely to be referred to special education services than their white peers. All of this is to say, when we look at the year that was, should education be “business as usual” when that approach has historically hurt huge populations of students?
In another corner of society, 2020 also offered Americans Operation Warp Speed, where the nation’s leading scientists and pharmaceutical experts produced a COVID-19 vaccine in less than a year using the latest breakthroughs in science and medicine. Again, with that mind, education must evolve or risk moving away by standing still. We should understand that wireless connections, devices, access and technology equity are essentials. It should not be a revolutionary or radical statement to say that our children need access to reliable internet and devices just to learn—let alone compete on a larger, global stage.
The year 2021 has all the possibility of a yet-to-be seedling. Teachers should be revered for their work in 2020. Professional development should prioritize teachers leading teachers around best practices for in-person and virtual learning, opportunities for inter-visitations. Schools should offer weekly or monthly town hall assemblies that focus on the housekeeping but also incorporate social, emotional check-ins for families. Districts should trust their teachers when teachers offer feedback around what is possible and realistic. Serious conversations around assessments should be had to determine what is reliable and credible data when it comes to virtual assessments. Screen time should be weighed against social time for students and teachers. Small groups should be strategically used throughout the week and pacing models revisited. An equity (and/or antiracist) lens should be applied to every decision.
In short, this could be the moment that education evolves from a business as usual model to an inclusion model that promotes students and families and values teachers as content experts. Education—now is not the time to stand still. If we are to move, let’s move away toward being revolutionary because we dared to be something more.
This op-ed is part of a series of year-end reflections EdSurge is publishing as 2020 concludes.