There is nothing more disorienting for an extrovert and enneagram 9 than having to be quarantined during a pandemic with limited contact with other humans. Add the fact that I am also a classroom teacher, and you can kind of feel the weight of isolation in your chest along with me. But, we’re all feeling this way. We are only a week in and I think we can all cry out with the “Abba” cry from Romans 8:15, “Father, it’s not supposed to be this way!” Let me take a second and validate your crying out to the Lord to be your help, your Ezer, in this time of uncertainty. He hears our cries (Psalm 34:17).
I have a few years of teaching under my belt. In May I will be closing out my 7th year as an educator. My teaching experience has led me to teach in several different types of schools: urban, rural, suburban, private, charter, and public. These included early learning centers, elementary, and now high school. One of those experiences in a public school system was labeled a Tier 3, or a school with some of the most intensive levels of intervention in order to remediate existing academic, social, or emotional problems and prevention of more serious problems. These problems can exist for many different reasons, but the theme through the lives of the students in Tier 3 schools is the low socio-economic status where 100% of the students receive a free or reduced lunch. Each school year I would take a poll in my classroom of students who had one or both parents incarcerated. Each year I had 80-90% of my students with one or both parents serving time in prisons. Every year I had multiple homeless students or transitioning out of a group home of sorts. With these kinds of numbers, the school system became a safer environment and provided more for basic needs than their own homes at times. It never surprised me most of my students would inevitably be calling me “mom” by the end of the school year. Most days I was their only mother figure in their lives. With the inalienable right in the United States to free and quality education, students are receiving not only an effective education but also having their needs met in ways families and parents should be providing for them.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, 51.8% of students in 2014-2015 are attending Tier 3 schools. With this data being almost 6 years old, we can inevitably see a trend in those numbers growing with the rise in crime in major cities and the continuum of individuals on state funding for insurance and food programs. What does this mean for our students in public schools? If we base the future on our history, it will mean more and more children will become dependent on their schools for food, shelter, and human connectedness with peers and teachers. The school will literally become the surrogate home.
As the novel coronavirus has caused educational facilities to rethink, reimagine, and reinvent how to educate their students due to social distancing specifications and stay at home orders from state officials, I have seen a shift in responsibility. For the last 100 years in the United States, qualified teachers have been effectively educating lives in our country through many chaos inducing events. The Spanish Flu 1918 shut down schools all across the world, just as they are now. World War II taught educators how to prepare for bombings and national security breaches while still maintaining a high level of success during such unsettling times. Natural disasters have certainly taught teachers how to creatively educate students in times of crisis as well. The terror attacks in New York City on 9/11 brought communities of educators together in an effort to teach children who experienced high levels of panic-inducing trauma. How does this new uncharted territory look for this generation of teachers who are having to teach remotely from home or empty classrooms? It looks like grace.
I have seen more subtle disunity among educators in the last few weeks than ever before. I want to call teachers to attention. If we truly believe we are a changing force in our homes, communities, and schools then let’s BE the change. Disunifying memes and comments that dehumanize parents during this time does not help shift the responsibility of educating our next generation in a positive way. Parents who have never “homeschooled” (I do not believe what we are doing right now is TRUE homeschooling, but…) are being put in a position where they must deal with the grief their children are experiencing as their lives are being flipped upside down and try to keep some semblance of normalcy in their routines, ALL WHILE MEETING THE EDUCATIONAL NEEDS OF THEIR CHILD at some basic level. Instead of waving the “I told you so” finger, or placing some sort of prideful crown of importance on our haughty heads, why don’t we take this time to truly do what we were called to do. EDUCATE. How can we champion our parents and caretakers to be the educators these students need? How can we support them in their moments during this time when educating littles and bigs could potentially tear families apart? How can we educate parents and encourage them when they feel like failures when their child just isn’t “getting it”.
I willingly throw down my crown of importance today. I am an educator during a global pandemic. I not only choose to love my students, but I choose to love those who bring us their best week in and week out. Their best may not be the standard we would bring to a classroom, but it’s THEIR BEST. I want to set my parents up for success and not demean them in any way during this time. The educating responsibility has shifted, and I am willing to stand behind parents during this time. I do not have to promote my self-importance as a teacher. If you are a parent, just know you will always be the best teacher for your child. You taught them how to suckle a bottle, how to say “momma”, how to walk, run, and tie their shoes. You’ve got this. And when you feel like you can’t do it, know there is one who has already been the perfect parent/teacher you could not be in your place. Lean into him when you fall short and trust he is with you, he is for you, and he will not forsake you.