We have officially been in our “Stay at Home” order for about four weeks. In addition, Michigan schools will no longer meet face-to-face this year. During my time at home, I have been doing some processing and reflecting on education and where our education system is currently functioning, is going, and will be going after all this is over.
There is one particular thought that keeps popping to the surface of my brain as I sift through all the chaos that is swirling. As states, educators, and parents push forward to ultimately guide our students for the rest of the academic school year, it is my professional and personal opinion students will not be ready for any type of standardized assessment for some time. We are essentially in survival mode and trying to get our students engaged and ready for the next school year. I have even made the plea on Twitter for there to be a call to postpone testing for the next 3-5 years. Only then will our students will be somewhat back in a state of normality and have a better foothold on academics. It is not an unrealistic request given that more states are shutting down for the entire school year like Michigan. Now is the appropriate time to reexamine the necessity of standardized testing and the need for it at all. Education advocate Diane Ravitch has been advocating for teachers and students for years to stop testing students and let teachers teach curriculum instead of teaching to the test.
In addition to waging a fight against standardized testing, I had the opportunity to have an engaging conversation with one of my colleagues about our current stay at home order, where education is just now emerging from sitting idle in our state of Michigan, and where it is heading. As the conversation with my colleague progressed, we both agreed it is time to be less reactive and more proactive in what we are doing to meet the needs of our students and what we provide for our students when it comes to online instruction, face-to-face, and just teaching overall. Although our educational approach to distance learning will never be perfect and will improve over time, there is nothing wrong with at least reaching out to students to see how they are doing. As my colleague put it today, “I have more respect for individuals and institutions that try, instead of sitting on their hands and doing nothing.” This does not entail us giving packets to students to complete to keep them busy. It does not even have to be rigorous academics. Below are some simple activities I have done with my 6th and 7th-grade students to help them and myself through this difficult time.
- Hosted simple Zoom meetings to say “Hi” to my students. I simply asked them how they were doing and my colleague and I engaged our students with March Madness brackets for movies and Dr. Seuss books.
- Posted a joke of the day on my Google Classroom to keep things light.
- Created a Flipgrid for students to share what they are reading or book recommendations.
- Suggested creating a journal/diary they could write in each day to help document the history that is taking place.
All the listed activities are low-key and low stress. We continue to emphasize to our students how much we miss them and want to see them. As the weeks have passed we have had more and more students participate. It has been very helpful for the students and has re-energized my colleague and me.
Finally, as I addressed previously, it is time to lead and not stand idle waiting for others to decide. There is no doubt education has holes in it. This is time for us to do some serious reflection on education, perhaps, as we have the time, to take a deep breath with this pandemic and realize we might be doing too much with our students. It is realistic to consider we might have too high of expectations for our students and this leads to student frustration and ultimately can lead to parents being frustrated. After all, I have watched teachers’ heads spin these last few weeks with all the resources being put out there for them to access and use. There is a positive to having all this sharing, but… if parents or educators are not tech-savvy, you will struggle. Resources that have been shared range from learning platforms to sites where teachers can get free informational articles similar to NEWSELA. Furthermore, I have seen the push for Khan Academy, Edpuzzle, ClassHook, and many others. There are so many tools and very little instruction or no instruction to go with them all. We need to support our colleagues and parents by perhaps providing a link to a blog post, video tutorial, sample lesson, educator resource guide, or some other useful way to integrate the tools into the teaching. Our standards, curriculum, and what we demand on a daily basis will more than likely change after the pandemic. Yes, it is time to be innovative, but we need to be mindful as well.
If there is ever a time for us to be innovative, the time is right now. We can’t be content doing things the way we have been doing them just for the simple fact of “that’s the way we have always done it.” We will never do things the same way again. Education is going to change and this is the time to think about how content can be delivered in a way that can always reach our students no matter if it’s a polar vortex or another pandemic that interrupts what was a typical school day. Let’s work together to put a plan in place when we face times like this again, including adequate internet access. I don’t know what that plan may look like, but I know there are many intelligent educators out there who can help put a plan together. There are great organizations that can help lead this charge:
- National Writing Project (NWP)
- National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
- Michigan Council of Teachers of English (MCTE)
- Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE)
- Michigan Association of Middle School Educators (MAMSE)
Overall, I would hate to see poor teaching done remotely. Michigan will have a plan in place along with each district. It definitely won’t be perfect, and we will all do what is best for our students, but it still needs to be more than packets of worksheets or online worksheets given to our students. Simply reaching out to our students is a basic beginning, in my opinion, to get the ball rolling. It is important to consider carefully the tools we use in our remote teaching approach, it is time to consider how fragile our students are and how much they will need us as educators. It is time to get involved with state educational planning for the future of education, it is time to call local senators and other legislative leaders. Of course, if the opportunity arises, talk with your governor. Whatever the choices we make, we can’t sit on our hands.
Jeremy Hyler (@jeremybballer) is a middle school language arts/science teacher at Fulton Schools in Middleton, Michigan. he is an ELA department co-chair, a teacher consultant to the National Writing Project, a Community Ambassador for NCTE, and a Media Literacy Innovator for KQED. He is co-author of Create, Compose, Connect, From Texting to Teaching, and Ask, Explore, Write.
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