We are trying to keep things as normal as possible for our kids. But why? There’s nothing normal about this school year. I’m going to make the case to please stop expecting normal from kids and teachers right now and to start questioning why we thought normal was so great in the first place. Sure, there’s a lot of comfort in routine and the structure of school, but we are so used to things that we stop questioning why we do them in the first place. What works every year doesn’t work this year and maybe needs to change. Testing kids because that’s what we always do, and evaluating teachers because that’s what we always do, doesn’t make sense. If there was ever a year to question what we’ve always done and stop expecting “normal” from kids and teachers, 2020 is it.
There’s nothing normal about this year
Our kids are watching us closely. When we impose “normal” life on an entirely unprecedented, and in no way normal school year, what message does that send? I can’t stand it when I hear people say, “we can do hard things!” and “whatever it takes!” The idea that our worth and our kids’ worth is determined by how productive we are has got to go. It’s very hard to check off all the boxes when you are anxious, worried, and the only certainty is uncertainty. Teachers feel like they aren’t doing enough, but they don’t know what else to do. Kids are isolated, and their entire experience of school has been turned upside down with no end in sight.
So, if there was ever a time to stop expecting everyone to push through, and get it done the way it’s always been done, this is it. Here’s what we need to do away with this school year.
We need to stop standardized testing
Yes, we get it. Kids are behind. They have unfinished and lost learning. Should we ignore this? No, of course not. There are a lot of things we can do to help our kids. Testing kids isn’t going to fill in learning gaps. And we can’t simply test the way we have always tested. We can’t guarantee that all of our kids have the same access to school this year. Just because we give kids laptops doesn’t mean they have the Wi-Fi to use them. To test students who are missing school because they keep getting kicked off the Zoom class is unfair. To ask teachers to administrator tests remotely, when they have no control over the testing environment, is unfair too.
What kind of message does it send our kids when we prioritize state and standardized tests when many students’ basic needs aren’t being met? Maslow before Bloom. No one can learn, let alone test well, when they are hungry, anxious, unsupervised, or highly stressed and traumatized.
We need to stop normal teacher evaluations
A lot of teachers know they are still getting evaluated this year, but they don’t know how, when, or what exactly they are being evaluated for. If there’s a rubric or a set of criteria for this, I haven’t seen it yet. What I have seen are district policies that say that teachers are evaluated through “practices that can be implemented in any setting.” I’m amazed that administrators think that teaching online and in person at the same time requires the same skills as teaching in person. When I taught in a classroom, I didn’t have to push a cart with a laptop on it, troubleshoot Zoom, and wear one earbud in my ear while trying to teach two groups of students.
I don’t know who thinks they are qualified to evaluate teaching during an unprecedented global pandemic. I am pretty sure there are no experts in this. How about thanking teachers for showing up and doing their jobs the best that they can and giving them support and encouragement instead of judgment?
We need to stop assigning homework
The lines between school and home are so blurred and messy right now. As I write this, my oldest son is using the walls of our bathtub as a whiteboard to practice his multiplication facts because his younger brother covered the only whiteboard we have in Sharpie. My son’s bathroom has become his classroom (don’t judge me). He sits in front of a computer alone in his room all day on Zoom classes. When “school’s over” he needs to get off a screen, not start more “homework” in Google Classroom.
For students learning online, all work is homework. And guess what, when the “school day” ends, that doesn’t mean the “work day” ends. The last thing anyone wants to do after dinner is a math worksheet that they don’t have a printer to print or another six-step first-grade assignment in Seesaw. Teachers do not need to spend hours grading right now, either. Less is more, and homework makes no sense this year.
We need to stop adopting brand new curriculum
People who have never taught or worked in a school are always shocked when I tell them it is very common for teachers to get a brand new curriculum just a few weeks or even days before the school year starts every year. I thought, and I hoped that this year would be different, and yet … here we are. So many teachers are being asked to teach brand new curriculums online and in person at the same time. No. Just no.
Learning how to teach on Zoom? Ok. We had to because our kids are learning remotely. Teaching our subject in a brand new way than we did last year during an unprecedented global pandemic? Why would we do that to ourselves? Oh right. We didn’t. Someone else who doesn’t have to teach the new curriculum made that decision without our input. I don’t want to experience anything new right now. All I want is to hold onto what I know and love. If there was ever a time to stick with your tried and true class assignments, activities, and lessons, this is it.
We need to rethink grading
This one is tricky. Kids need feedback on their work, and grades are one way to give feedback. But they aren’t the only way. This one is similar to testing because there are so many factors that are out of our control. Let’s say we give our kids a math test. Some of our kids are taking it at home, and the rest are taking it in person. How do we know that our kids at home aren’t getting help from grownups? Especially if this is a multiple-choice test or they don’t show their work? What if we ask kids not to use a calculator? How do we know that all the kids won’t? I am not assuming the worst, but I am keeping it real. How can we possibly grade fairly right now?
Let’s also think about teachers and how workloads have doubled, systems and tools have changed, and everything takes longer than it did before. I’m going to make a case for more formative assessments and using tools like Google Forms and adaptive technology programs like IXL and Lexia to gather student data. But, only if our kids can all access those tools.
We need to abandon pacing guides
I was never a fan of these any year, but I understand their purpose. We have a curriculum to get through, and sometimes we want to spend an entire week on something because the kids are really into it, but we have to move on. The problem is that we are using pacing guides that don’t align with what is actually going on. Teachers aren’t teaching the same way they were before. Our year was thrown off before school even started. Many schools started two or more weeks later because they were still scrambling to plan and prepare. Teachers had to spend a lot more time teaching students how to use technology and troubleshooting, which slowed their pace. We will be behind the pacing guide no matter what we do, so why are we holding ourselves to a standard that we won’t be able to achieve?
We need to reevaluate extra credit
Even before this year, extra credit has always drawn a lot of heated debate between teachers. Some of us feel that extra credit is a way for us to differentiate and allow students who are ready to go above and beyond the assignment. Other teachers feel that it isn’t fair. Extra credit puts pressure on students to do more and sends the message that they aren’t doing enough if they opt out. It gets even messier when extra credit means extra points, which means a higher grade.
This year it’s not just the kids who are feeling the pressure, but also parents. What does it say about you as a parent if you don’t manage to build a nest for a bird using materials around the house and test it with an egg? If you’ve ever made a last-minute grocery run ten minutes before the store closed so your kid could do the extra credit, just stop. The only “extra” that we need right now is extra support and extra flexibility, not extra credit.
There’s nothing normal about this school year, and to try to go about teaching and learning the same way we did last year because that’s how we’ve always done it has got to stop. This is a wake-up call for education. We need to take a hard look at testing, grades, evaluations, and consider that if this year is teaching us anything, the lesson is that we have a lot to learn.
What do you think needs to stop this year? Come share (and hear from other teachers) in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.
Also, check out Please Don’t Call Me a Superhero.