The end of the school year 2020 has meant a May like no other.
For more than four decades, I have been a student, a teacher, a counselor – and sometimes two or more of these at a time. My husband is also a career educator. Our children are school-aged. Our entire marriage and family structure has been built on the foundations of a traditional, Northern-hemisphere, academic school year – until now.
It is a chance to refresh, restart, reflect and recharge. Which means May has a “feeling” to it that is singular. May is like a month-long New Year’s Eve. “One last” of everything with each cohort of students, each class, each extracurricular group.
It is celebratory – open house, awards night and end-of-year concerts.
It is tear-inducing – as students meet or miss graduation requirements.
It is bittersweet – as students launch to sometimes far-flung destinations, excited with the possibilities and aching for what once was.
And in 2020, May is all of these things, but being experienced in the alone-togetherness brought on by our current health crisis.
Instead of juggling Open House schedules across multiple schools, there are none. Instead of racing to our kids’ end-of-year concerts and assemblies during our lunch breaks and prep periods, we are recording digital clips and making photo slides to share with grandparents.
Instead of working on a team to graduate hundreds of high school students in a ceremony attended by thousands, we are encouraging kids to complete their online assignments – and then upload a picture of themselves for their virtual graduation – our own 8th grader included.
It is both frantic and endless. It is exciting and emotional. It is full of launching kids into new beginnings, and bittersweet farewells to colleagues retiring and moving away.
And now it is as though we are doing this all in a vacuum. No yearbook signing. No elementary school parades. No in-person celebrations. Yet all the same milestones being approached.
Just as though few of us can keep track of what day it is right now, for the first time in my four decades as a student and educator, May feels little different than March or October. (Not in the least helped by our erratic weather!)
I’m trying to focus on the good that will come out of this – for our students, my fellow educators and our often-archaic education system.
Yes, I have students who are working in essential jobs. And families who sharing too-small spaces. And parents who are accessing food banks – formal and informal- at higher rates than previously. But even in those homes, it seems that kids are sleeping more. Not in a let’s-change-the-bell-schedule kind of way, but in an authentic, sleep-the-hours-they-need kind of way.
Many students have less school work, and more time to run or cycle – or chase little siblings. They are feeding their minds with more chosen activities – deep dives into topics of interest, or returning to long-lost hobbies – or having a little fun alongside the little ones in their homes. The more kids connect to an interest, the more they become engaged with learning in general. And the fortunate are able to feed their bodies with regular meals (no skipping lunch to take a test or go to a club meeting).
The first to go were our state tests – in language arts, math and physical education. These often arbitrary measuring sticks imposed inequitable consequences across our diverse student body. Kids of color and from less-affluent households were routinely more likely to be placed in support classes or extra PE classes, disallowing them from taking electives that truly interested them.
And now we are beginning to a shift in college admissions testing as well. Many schools have moved to test-optional for the Class of 2021 – including the influential University of California system. Anecdotally, these tests often seem to favor students whose families could pay for pricy test prep classes and tutors.
Regardless of income, they often reinforce disadvantages resulting from wildly different educational preparation. Educators at all levels work to close the gaps – but this is a core challenge in education and these tests rarely unearth something new, rather just reenforce the reality we dig in with day in and day out. With the tests being migrated to uncertain online formats, their viability as a valid tool is being diminished even further.
While some worry about the landscape of college admissions with less emphasis on testing, I do not. It may just cause the upheaval in this system that is, in my opinion, long-overdue. Without the complicated system of numbers and indices created by test scores and GPAs, maybe students can focus on showing colleges what they know and what they love. And maybe colleges can focus on building interesting, interested classes rather than chasing rankings.
There are some areas in education that have resisted the influence of educational technology (“edtech”) for years, if not decades – until now. The lockdown of school facilities basically overnight – combined with the desirable mandate to keep education moving forward – created an opportunity for edtech to have it’s moment.
Families who have transportation issues have showed up to Zoom parent conferences. Kids who avoided school are getting help via teleheath. And the stacks of papers that have continued to dominate school offices and classrooms are slowing migrating to online platforms. Forms, applications, and fliers are now digital. We are proctoring exams remotely. And rethinking authentic assessment using hard-to-fake tools like FlipGrid. And grading online – which can provide instant feedback to students in platforms like Google Classroom and Canvas.
Coronavirus memes will likely be a genre of internet creativity that will be inextricable from our memories of this time. And whether they call it “homeschooling” (which it’s not) or “distance learning” (which it is), “online classes” (not really) or “crisis education” (absolutely), a subset of these memes do nothing but note the amazingness of teachers.
As a career educator, I have lived in this world of unsung heroes for decades. But now it’s as though the whole community has a new appreciation for the roles served by both educators and the school buildings we typically keep up and running.
And while the calendar has placed Teacher Appreciation in May for decades, there is no May when the spirit of it has been more valued. And this is not the year for the cliched gifts that are well-intended but often go unused. Your educators do not need test ornaments for their dining-room-table-turned office. They will need to rethink their use of classroom kitsch as we enter an age of extreme cleaning. And school supplies are also more complicated now.
So here are some ideas for teacher appreciation – from home.
- A video – record your kid doing almost anything – even for a few seconds – and it will make their teacher’s day. Bonus if it’s something that person taught them, of course, but just them on camera is enough to melt most of our hearts.
- A song or poem or other words of kindness – again, no worries about content or length – just as long as they are heartfelt.
- A fruit basket – our PTA came through with this amazing idea and it was beyond welcomed, especially as grocery store visits are so infrequent.
- An e-gift card – especially for a local restaurant that does take out or a local bookstore – this supports their business, and also thanks the educator.
- A manicure – nothing like a salon-quality manicure, at home to brighten someone’s day. (options restocking at regular intervals)
How are you marking the end of the school year 2020? Share in the comments.
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