I love it when people who know very little about education pontificate on what’s wrong with teachers. I suppose they think that being a student a generation ago makes them experts on schools. It’s one thing to express an opinion, but quite another to pass judgment based on inaccuracies and distortion.
A recent columnist in the Times bemoaned “the Virginia teachers union” for demanding students get vaccinated before returning to in-person learning. I suppose if all you read were the headlines on rightist websites you might get that impression; however, reading the articles presents a different picture. The truth? On Jan. 21, the president of the Fairfax Education Association suggested that “we maintain the hybrid model and continue social distancing, masking, and all other mitigation strategies.” It wasn’t all of Virginia; it wasn’t even all of Fairfax County, and it certainly wasn’t a demand for students to stay at home.
Anecdotes make good stories, but do they really prove anything? Did one teacher really say that teaching from home was like being retired? I suppose it’s possible, but was this individual joking or being sarcastic? We will never know.
I can tell you that I taught virtually from the middle of March to the end of last school year, and it was nothing like being retired. We had “office hours” when we interacted with students; we had lessons to write; we had assignments to grade; we had virtual meetings. I was lucky because my wife was able to teach me how to use Google Classroom. A lot of my colleagues had to figure it out on their own. I did not have to deal with the hybrid model or asynchronous instruction because I am actually retired now. Big difference, let me tell you!
The most disingenuous complaint against teachers is that they don’t want to work. First of all, Gov. Hogan closed schools, not teachers, and schools have reopened in some capacity. Each county has their own challenges and parameters to meet. What works in Carroll might not be the best approach for the more populous counties.
Another columnist incorrectly characterized that unions “appear to never want in-person education to resume.” Education associations, including CCEA and CASE here in Carroll, have been advocating for safety since day one. Our associations are responsible for CCPS purchasing air purifiers for classrooms. Baltimore County educators filed an injunction because ADA accommodations had been ignored, not because teachers want to stay home.
Whether educators are teaching from home or in person, they are working harder than ever. In the best of times teachers have a lot to juggle, and they work many more hours than the actual school day allows. Add to that, the challenges of synchronous instruction where you have to be in front of a camera for the students at home while simultaneously interacting with those present in the classroom. Then combine all the worry about safety concerns, and you have a recipe for major stress!
It is a lot easier to criticize and politicize than offer solutions. We all want to return to a normal life, but we are still in the midst of a pandemic. COVID-19 cases in our schools rose 30% the last week of March. Cases in Carroll are spiking again. One positive development is CCPS now offering COVID testing in two schools. Let’s face it, parents send sick kids to school. It is a shame that every school can’t offer testing. The school system is also being proactive by planning for summer remediation efforts.
This past year has taught us the importance of flexibility. Educators have learned to roll with the punches, learning new technologies while jumping into new modes of instruction. We have always known that one size does not fit all, especially in education. Nearly as many parents are keeping their students home as are sending them to school. Some thrive in a virtual setting; others need the environment of a school. All the extracurricular programs that exist have been challenged beyond anything we imagined a year ago.
Last but not least, let’s not forget that all of this costs money. Financial support for our schools will need to be as robust as ever. Let’s hope the county commissioners and state step up to the plate with school funding. Now is the time to support our educators, not criticize them.
Tom Scanlan writes from Westminster. He is a former employee of Carroll County Public Schools who taught for 33 years.
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