Thursday, August 06, 2020

Pedagogy in Crisis: Goodbye Art Cart, Goodbye Dramatic Play, Goodbye Puppets

Today was the first day of my twenty-fifth year in the classroom.

I wore my mask on my face and a button with my face on it.  Upon admittance to the building and my classroom, I found tables and desks set up spaced six feet apart with all of the other furniture pushed against the walls and stacked upon cabinetry. After early morning PD, I was sent back to the room (will I be teaching here in a month, or stationed elsewhere as a remote learning instructor? Who knows.), ate lunch, and then started my assignment: determine what remaining furniture, if any, could still be used, and remove all of my own personal belongings and all cloth items from the room.  Furniture to be stored had to be labeled and put in a central location within the classroom so it wouldn't clog up the hallway.

I might have been able to maintain some semblance of stoicism for the remainder of the afternoon, but a dear friend walked into my room, and it was all I could do to not sob. After drying some tears (crying and having one's nose run behind a mask is NOT an ideal situation), I pushed through to problem-solving mode: what do I need to keep? What must I send to storage?  What must I take home? How can I provide visual cues to students (who I may or may not have in-person) so they know where to keep their very moveable individual desks (one solution would be Sit Spots on the floor, one marking the upper right desk leg and the other marking the lower-left desk leg) as we attempt to maintain social distancing requirements?

But being the first day of my twenty-fifth year of teaching, I recognized that I am being required to do exactly what I have fought doing for my entire career: I must work against my students' very nature, coach and praise them against how they learn best, and constantly redirect them from their very selves.  And if I manage to do it "successfully," I know that there are other teachers and possibly even administrators who would find the arrangement of kindergarten students sitting face-forward in straight rows for seven hours each day at desks ideal, even desirable post-pandemic.  I'm experiencing a pedagogical crisis.

Here is the furniture to be removed:
Goodbye art cart.  Goodbye alphabet rug.

Goodbye Dramatic Play/"House" Center.

Goodbye lightbox, Lego table, and painting easel.

Goodbye reading table.  Goodbye Play-Doh table, and math table, and writing center table.

Goodbye discovery table with the roadway on one side of the flippable topper and a farm scene on the other.

The wooden barn and dollhouse will sit high atop the upper cabinetry, stored, but not out of sight.  Students will wonder why they are there, and why they are out of reach.  If I'm not reassigned, my class set of scoop seats will join the barn and dollhouse.  So will whatever extras might fit that we won't be allowed to use... but students will see them.  And wonder.

As for the personal belongings that I have to bring home, here's the first load:

Kindergarten will have no resting mats.  

No storytime chair. No mini couch or chairs. 

No shopping cart. No puppets, no apple basket tree to hold them.  

No stuffed animals to "buddy read" to. 

No balance beam.  No stepping stones.  No sensory bin.

No side table for plants or book displays.  

No rolling cart for lunch box and snack bag collection. 

Kindergarten not being kindergarten is supposed to pass as a solution this year, but a developmentally inappropriate learning environment will never be the correct answer. 

I am grieving. 

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Back to Work Tomorrow

The cleanout of my greenhouse has begun. I'm down to one cucumber plant and a handful of cherry tomatoes, some parsley and "nasty urchin" (nasturtium's nickname bestowed many years ago by a Super Star kindergartener) blooms.  After an initial harvest, dry mold took the peppers and a different cucumber plant, and a frog took over my barrel of green onions. 

Thanks a lot, Kermit.

Despite the rapidly multiplying beetles that I've been unable to deter or kill, the pumpkin vines they inhabit are still busily producing, to the point that I have greenhouse porch and house porch pumpkins.

I love pumpkins.

I return to work tomorrow for Convocation.  Student tables or desks or chairs or stools (who knows what I will find) have already been arranged in my classroom, and I'm not to move them. I have no idea if my increased risk factors for COVID complications will mean that I'll be assigned to teach as a remote learning instructor.  I do know that if I am to teach remotely, I will do so from within the school building, though not necessarily from my own classroom. I may have to pack a little and try to make the walls of my classroom more appealing, or I may have to pack everything and move to a different space, possibly sharing it with another remote teacher. 

I'm of the opinion that remote teachers remaining within school buildings will likely end up serving as substitute teachers.  If schools don't return to full-time distance learning, I wonder how many teachers will break their contracts and quit at the semester. I know, I know. These are not cheerful ponderings, but I don't have to channel Pollyanna here, so I won't.  I'm wondering how much of my back to school PD will be structured as school-as-usual pantomime... theater.  Going through the motions and "acting as if" there's some normalcy to be had, and as if that appearance of normalcy is of some benefit to teachers who, though wearing masks, will still be sharing air and thinking about the colleagues sitting to the right and left of them, six feet away. 

My usual routine of getting my hair done and indulging in a pedicure before the first day back isn't in the plan for today.  I've watered the pumpkins, harvested edibles, and will be baking cookies that will be well-wrapped in individual servings for our custodians. I'll do a grocery pick-up run, come home, shower, iron clothes, play with Google Sites to see if I can make a more appealing, navigable and intuitive resource for parents and students before they dive into Google Classroom (we no longer have Seesaw, which is difficult), make dinner, pack tomorrow's lunch, lay out my clothes, masks, visor (or glasses, I haven't decided yet), and put my tech devices into my teacher's bag before starting on my manicure. 

I still haven't decided whether or not to wear makeup tomorrow, aside from waterproof mascara and some moisturizer.  I'll be behind a mask all day, after all.  And seeing my classroom so visually sterile is going to be a punch to the gut. 

I'll need to bring a camping chair so I can sit outside and eat my lunch too, come to think of it. 

If you're new to Google Classroom and Google Sites and Google anything for schools, explore Google for Education and seek out groups/pages on Facebook such as "Google Sites for Distance Learning" and "Google Classroom for Kindergarten and Primary Teachers." There's bound to be similar pages for other grades, too.  If I can make progress on my Google Site I'll make sure to screenshot it and share it here at the blog- we need inspiration, right?

Don't forget that there is a sale over at Teachers Pay Teachers today, too.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Tick... Tock... Internal... Clock

Each summer, I'm usually sharing photos of my classroom set up right about now, or posting some tutorials on bulletin board creation, and of course, gushing over my fresh, new teacher planner. This year, I'm at home, with bedhead, my second cup of still-hot coffee steaming next to me on my nightstand and the smell of Clorox kitchen cleaner wafting down the hallway listening to the whirring of the dishwasher, fully loaded and running at 8:30 a.m.

I briefly considered joining my district's COVID-19 task force/re-opening schools committee two weeks ago (they're meeting this week), but decided that I wanted and deserved a break with a little bit of "real summer" leftover to try to enjoy after a workshop I took came to a close. Changes at my building and our state's back-to-school calendar mean that convocation and first few days of PD could be fairly interesting, but it's the sitting and waiting to hear about what the framework of my district's remote learning plan might look like that is preventing me from turning my brain off and attention toward other much less stressful pursuits.  The committee is plowing through a lot of content and putting their creative selves to the test. I wish I could bake them all cookies.

In May, I volunteered to be on the staff for any digital academy or distance learning that we might offer because 1) I didn't believe we'd be back in brick and mortar schools, or if we were, that we'd stay there long and 2) I fall into a high-risk category for coronavirus complications.  As it turns out, the pandemic and virus did indeed continue on their merry way, causing problems and necessitating adjustments, despite many of my neighbors' disbelief that any entity would dare to work counter to their plans and schedules.  I still do not know if I'll be expected to teach face to face, face to face and have my instruction live-streamed (a ridiculous format for kindergarten), face to face with an extended day schedule for half of my class and the remainder of the afternoon after early dismissal creating and sharing virtual lessons and instruction for the second half (easily double or more the workload, especially if diverted to sub in another classroom),  remote only using Seesaw and other digital platforms/curriculum tools and restrictive rules implemented last spring, and if teaching remotely, working from home or within some other office elsewhere so that I can help multiple grade levels with planning instead of just kindergarten, all while trying to not be pulled right back into the danger zones of in-person meetings and step-in substitute duties that prompted me to volunteer for remote instruction in the first place.

I'm looking forward to having an answer to the questions I have about where to invest my time, and frankly, money too. Do I start shopping around for an oversized dry erase board, green screen cloth, mini-desk, bookshelves, comfortable rolling chair, storage tubs for all of my belongings and classroom library still at school, and repaint a wall in the guest bedroom?  Do I completely reorganize my storage to accommodate all of my gear, which includes classroom furniture and toys, and if so, when do I actually go in to pack it all up and haul it home? If I'm going to have to work in an office, when do I get to pull my necessities and then pack up and store the rest?  Do I make and buy more masks and a visor? Do I need to stock up on wipes and hand sanitizer, none of which is available in town, and when it appears in other stores is limited to one item per customer and incredibly overpriced requiring extra gas and extended exposure to others?  Do I purchase scrub-type clothing?  I spent a lot of money to pay for my summer workshop... will I be allowed to use any of the tools and resources I learned about?  What do I have that I can donate to the cause to help my colleagues and their students? Do I create age-appropriate mask-wearing posters, or create Wakelet boards of tutorials for how to create Bitmoji classrooms?  I'm not panicked.  I'm anxious.

A former colleague told me in May that we shouldn't plan anything, and just wait and see what the state decides and what our district decides in the fall, because "you never know." Yes, yes, you can know.  You can know that a pandemic occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population.  You can do some research and can come to know that pandemics don't operate via collaboration with businesses' calendars for the fiscal year, and you can infer that preparation for change is necessary. That many parents are now turning on teachers, those same teachers with whom they partnered and praised last year, demanding that we take their children back after purposely (even proudly) avoiding the mask-wearing and social distancing recommendations that could have made that very option viable makes me realize just how much of the population also believes in just waiting and seeing what happens rather than being proactive and making informed, not wild, guesses about the future.  The instructors of my summer workshop anticipated that their content would be needed, and I'm terribly thankful that our state board of education created a committee that would address multiple schooling scenarios.  I appreciate that the workshop opportunity was shared with me and that there are, indeed, options for my twenty-fifth year as an educator.

But wow.  My internal clock and calendar are all thrown out of whack this year, which is uncomfortable for me as a confirmed creature of habit.  This week is supposed to involve classroom furniture, bulletin boards, decor, and year-long calendar planning, followed by a website update, parent communication, and copies for August, September and October being sent to the printer.  Then I bake and take in cookies for our custodians, my first week of school crafts are prepped, I attend PD while regularly checking on my ever-evolving class list, have lunch with the team, start grade level planning, and sprinkle in lots of peeking into classrooms to catch up and see how everybody's' summer went.  I didn't get to do much of this preparation in person last year due to my surgery and didn't realize how much I had been looking forward to getting back into the groove until May when I realized the normal back-to-school routine wasn't going to be likely.  After all of this summer's upheaval, and hopefully, as a "remote learning" teacher, I am looking forward to the start of the school year, even with its uncertainties. I need a routine, even if it means creating a new one.  My days require structure so that I can develop habits that make it possible for me to plan a schedule.  I'll know when I'm working, and I'll look forward to my off-hours. My brain will disengage and allow itself some other pursuits because the foundation will be firmly built and I will be able to rely upon it.



Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Must Teachers be Martyrs to be Saints?

Peeking in on new teachers' groups I've joined via social media isn't really helping my mood.

All teachers are concerned about their students' health and welfare if they continue to have to stay at home without food, without access to the internet (or reliable internet) and digital devices, and where abuse and neglect occur. Some teachers are MORE concerned about those students than their own health, which I understand: that's the default setting for almost all of us.

Other teachers (even after considering school shootings and other crimes) are for the first time adding their health, their lives, and the lives of their families to the same side of the scale, joining, not dismissing or demeaning their students' needs. For many teachers, this is a first, a precedent in our careers. Not every teacher who needs to stay home will have the option to do so. Not every student who needs socialization will get it in socially distanced classrooms.

When teachers get sick (and we will), our substitutes, if available, won't first be looking for signs of abuse or neglect and it's possible that they may not teach to the standard of a veteran educator. When children get sick (and they will, if they don't come to school on the very first day asymptomatic or symptomatic and medicated to mask it), they'll have to have digital back-up resources provided not only in an attempt to keep them connected and learning, but to provide districts data that demonstrate they deserve to retain their accreditation. Why not start digitally for everyone, then use those color-coded district plans in reverse, as we acknowledge the surge in cases that is currently happening (red), achieve some flattening (yellow) and then get the clear-as-it's-going-to-get status proven by study and research (green)?

Trying to pick one side of this debate over the other ignores that there may be yet three more angles and options of which we're unaware or unwilling to explore simply because we are fixated upon a first-day-of-school date that should be just as sacrificial as traditional high school graduation ceremonies were. Sacrifices hurt, but I cannot teach if I've on a ventilator or dead. It's incorrect to label instinctual self-preservation as only selfish.

Must we be martyrs to be saints?

Monday, July 13, 2020

Instincts and Urges

It's summer and this is the week traditionally when I would be back in my classroom arranging furniture, freshening up bulletin board displays, pulling stuffed animals, manipulatives, journals, tubs, books and other items from cabinetry and sitting down at my reading table to take a break, eat lunch, and survey the progress.  There's usually music playing through the surround-sound speaker system, my door is wide open for colleagues to come through if any are around, and it's either sunny and hot or storming like crazy outside my classroom windows, making me wonder if I'll be navigating around downed trees once I leave the building. Even last year after my surgery my teenager was able to help me sort through things and prep.  An angel of a colleague arranged all of my furniture so I wouldn't strain myself. 

Last week I got to see a video of my classroom, completely cleaned, and that same old urge automatically kicked in. I wanted to walk back inside, stand immediately within the door, and just look, slowing scanning my room from left to right, up and down, and back again. Bookcase, SMART Board, dry erase board, check. Calendar, storytime chair, book display, ELA tubs, check. Word wall, student chairs, writing table, center toys, check. Apple basket stand for puppets, dramatic play kitchen set, baby doll cradle, math bulletin board, check. Bookcase, round math table, manipulatives, rolling cart, check.  Art cart, desktop laminator, paint, glue, crates of craft mock-ups sorted by month, check.  Easel, play-doh table, carpet, sink, paint rack, Pete the Cat sitting in a wreath gifted to me by a Super Star family, check. Handwashing station, birthday bulletin board display, and way up high, above all of the built-in cabinetry, tchotchkes and keepsakes accumulated from over two decades of teaching in Alaska, New Mexico, and Kansas... check.  Door to a shared workroom/storage space, teacher desk, cabinetry, student lockers and cubbies, dollhouse table, check.  Rolled up carpets and students' tables stacked, rolling cart used for storage and at the end of each year- except for this year- yearbook distribution... check. Hooks hanging from clear fishing wire.  Check. I can imagine the laughter and buzz of students talking as my eyes track across our spaces.

I have also had the incredible urge to walk back into the classroom, empty all of the furniture into the hallway and shared space at the rear of the room where the bathrooms and iPad carts are located, measure out the actual floor space, and start pulling tables and chairs back into the room to measure some more and get a feel for what six feet apart all facing the same direction feels and looks like.  Tables and chairs have been in a wagon wheel or flower petal arrangement for several years now, which can't happen now. My go-to, when faced with a problem or situation requiring modifications and solutions, is to move furniture and be creative, taking inventory of what I have, and imagining new ways of using it all.  I've been watching all summer and have been seeking out photos and information about schooling and classroom arrangements shared by teachers from all around the world.  Articles and tweets about the happiness of being reunited with students, the smell of disinfectant permeating the air and face coverings, the adjustment being more difficult for adults than children and the touchy-feely declarative posts of "I just have to be here no matter what" do nothing to reduce my urges to cry or feel nauseous.

I've wondered if plexiglass dividers would work across the middle of each of my student tables, and should they be too expensive if creating dividers using clear shower curtain liners, PVC pipe and foam strips for a gasket-type seal would serve instead. I've wondered if I need to replace the fabric curtains that cover most of my lower cabinetry with vinyl or plastic of some sort, so they're easier to clean.  I've purchased Ziploc baggies with sliders and plastic lidded containers with divided sections of various sizes to see if they'd be efficient and easy for kindergarteners to access and store math manipulatives daily.  I've priced individual book totes in anticipation of students not being able to select, share or trade books to look through. I've purchased new tongs, long and short, for selecting items from bins without using our hands and for picking up the tissues, disposable masks and other garbage that will end up on the floor or left on desks.  I've tried different masks and bought safety glasses to see if there is any combination that isn't overly uncomfortable, sweat producing, or too scary for young children.   I've bought masks with our school mascot on them.  I've ordered new sit spots shaped like stars and colored carpet tape for delineating spaces and suggesting traffic patterns.  

Despite all of these deeply ingrained habits and urges, my instinct, just as it did in May, continues to tell me to stay away from the classroom.  Guidance about social distancing aside, it's always been my job to create a learning environment that appeals to young children, that communicates our classroom is a safe space to which they should want to return day after day and that parents also find reassuring.  I could shift decor and manipulatives to all laminated, disinfectant-friendly items.  But the safety implied, if it could effectively be so without our puppets and stuffed animals and shared spaces and hugs, would be a lie.  Acting-as-if and putting on a brave face aren't markers of professionalism during a pandemic, despite society believing them sufficient in the case of fires, tornados, earthquakes and school shootings.  

It's not lost on me that my money might have been better spent on purchasing a large dry erase board to help set up space at home from which I could teach, no masks required.  But as usual, my instinct and urge have been to anticipate and prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.  I just wish the worst wasn't so very, very bad this year.

Friday, July 10, 2020


Hindsight is the understanding of a situation or event only after it has happened or developed.  Interestingly, it is possible to both anticipate and understand scenarios, especially if 1) you're older and 2) you've been paying attention.  If your resulting decision-making culminates in better choices and more satisfactory outcomes, you end up being credited with demonstrating common sense.

In so many aspects of life, common sense often partners with compromise, especially when mitigating factors make it near impossible to follow your plan as originally imagined. When faced with a forced, unanticipated readjustment, you experience shock, denial, anger and/or frustration, and you try to bargain with whatever the opposing element may be to see if you can't work a compromise to get back what you're terribly anxious to not lose, even if the loss is temporary. You may wallow in despair when a compromise can't be reached, finding no point in the idea of trying to carry on. You refuse to accept the simple truths laid before you as you repeat the cycle of anger, bargaining (even begging) and depression over and over again.

You grieve, which is normal for all of us. 

Some educators have been grieving since mid-March, while others, likely administrators, haven't been able to grieve fully since they first caught wind of the directives that were going to come from their governor's offices.  They had to experience a much-abbreviated moment of shock before being leapfrogged into acceptance and action, being problem-solvers first, keeping their students, teachers, colleagues and staff safe before steering the ship to turn on a dime while advocating that the need for schooling, the establishment of new learning routines and environments and the building of even stronger parent-teacher partnerships were necessary for the emotional and academic well-being of all of our students.  They reminded us that we'd all be in the business of granting and receiving grace and that our own self-care was critical.  They led and gave us direction.

Families grieved while having to take back many of the responsibilities that they've ceded to schools over the years. Some succeeded, some struggled, and some failed.  Some parents, who previously demonstrated little appreciation for their child's teachers experienced cathartic revelations of having seen the light, pledging to purchase any and all future class supplies and offering to subscribe teachers and staff to wine-of-the-month clubs and advocate for higher pay if we'd "just take my kids back."  Humorous bargaining, but bargaining just the same. "I don't know how ya'll do it" and "no one will ever take you for granted again" were some of the affirmations showered upon us.  March to May was doable for some families, a blessing for others.  Some families, for whatever reasons, never rose to the occasion.

My grief cycle has been dictated by my self-and-family-preservation button remaining engaged causing me to hurdle back and forth through and/or over the usual stages. Schools are now closed: shock, d-e-n-i... acceptance. You have thirty minutes to grab necessities from your classroom: shock, acceptance. You'll be using tools that you've never used before in your classroom beginning next week: s-h-o... acceptance. No, you can't use appropriate content even though you know how to run it through filters and have been for years: anger, acceptance, depression. You'll be teaching your teenager curriculum content along with digital resource navigation while you teach from home: bargaining, acceptance, anger.  You can have fifteen-minute Zoom meetings once a week for your seventeen students and their families: bargaining, anger, acceptance, bargaining, depression. Time to come back to the building to pack up for the summer: acceptance, depression. 

All of these emotions have continued to be in play for me this summer as I've watched and reflected upon the civil unrest, racism, inequality and frankly bad behavior of rather entitled members of our society.  My husband and I continue to discover COVID19 infiltrating our circle of friends near and far, and we see that the numbers haven't dropped, the curve hasn't flattened, realizing now that it likely won't thanks to so many Americans placing their wants before their neighbors' needs.  Taking part in PD and regularly crocheting between visits to my greenhouse and tending my gardening spaces has provided me with pockets of peace and glimmers of hope, but they're not as enduring as I'd like them to be.  As I navigate suggested solutions via social media ranging from homeschooling or digital academy options, pool-noodle hats, temperature checks that don't identify asymptomatic carriers, seven or eight students per classroom, ten online with the acknowledgment that it's likely to be all seventeen or eighteen online a month later, optional mask-wearing partnered with masks worn incorrectly, and at least four times more cleaning and disinfecting that will increase the likelihood of poisoning which is still preferable to dying from "the 'rona," my mind remembers the already present avalanche of other germy, illness-producing normalcies that still occur in classrooms during the best of years.  Twitter users and those posting on Facebook are being polite by not mentioning the urine and feces that accompany the snot, saliva and barf.  I'm thinking this isn't the time to adhere to decorum and professional mystery.

Like many other educators, I'm having a great deal of difficulty believing that the lives of my students, myself and my colleagues are of much value as people granted more decision-making power who want to get back to their own sense of normalcy push us into environments that are now deadlier than they were in March.  They are dancing every version of the sidestep possible in order to justify avoiding common sense and simple truths, and they are willfully, stubbornly committed to the present, not the future.  They're acting as if they'll never have to look back and measure the costs of the decisions they've made. 

I get it. But it's not good enough.

This is tough and it's going to remain difficult.  We don't have all of the answers we need... yet.  They're coming, but not on our fall-through-spring/early summer school schedule.  We're wasting time pretending that they will.

It's also a waste of time trying to ease people into the idea that it will only take some adjustments to get students back to a traditional-ish school setting, and once that setting closes again (which it likely will... ~hindsight~), we're back to square one.  To quote a tweet I stumbled across, "rip the bandaid off, already." Commit to remote learning, and ease back into shared spaces.  We could start making tangible, real plans and preparing, acknowledging that it's a difficult precedent, and sharing the common goal of being back together when it's the right time.  It will only be right when it's more, not less safe for us all, no matter what the budget ledger looks like.

Calling this pandemic a hoax doesn't make what we're experiencing any less deadly.  Not everyone believes what they should, but educators, child advocates and mandated reporters don't get the luxury of being passive spectators. We must err on the side of safety even if it's not perfectly defined and we have no guarantees.  Our solutions can be imperfect, but they must not be dangerously so. 

Setting a precedent happened in March.  It can happen again in August.  It's easier to do difficult things when we can reassure ourselves that the price is worth it.  My son's life is worth it. Your life, my life, our lives are worth it.  Simple.

Inconvenienced is better than suffering and dying.

Grief is normal.

Unpopular is better than guilt-ridden. 

Hindsight is 20/20.

(found on Facebook- contact me if you're the creator so I can credit you, and thank you for the common sense)

Thursday, July 09, 2020

An Educator's Code of Conduct

I've spent my summer participating in and learning a lot from an online teaching workshop (about online teaching and remote learning, of course), growing cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and bell peppers in my greenhouse (melons, cantaloupes and pumpkins are just starting to take off), keeping up with household chores, crocheting and reading.  As I surf social media, I find myself intending to sift through but often drowning in updates, news, and opinions expressing not only how we might safely open schools this summer, but IF we should even try until winter, or spring...or next fall.

Watching and listening to the President, the Vice President and the Secretary of Education, none of whom could teach their way out of a paper bag (if they even know what a paper bag is) insisting upon our schools opening sooner rather than later at full capacity, just-throw-them-into-the-deep-end-of-the-pool-without-floaties-and-they'll-either-sink-or-swim style is something I find maddening.  I consider this an incredibly appropriate response because it means I'm neither numb nor indifferent to the responsibilities of my job: I am a kindergarten teacher.  I am a mentor.  I am a colleague.  I am part of a district team, and our shared goals are to educate children, guide them, and support them in the hope that they develop a love of learning and many talents that will help them live what we all hope will be long, happy, illuminated, creative, purposeful, giving, inspiring, joyful, healthy lives.

I'm an early childhood advocate and I'll be starting my twenty-fifth year of teaching this fall which should make it fairly clear that I'm committed to much more than my paycheck.  I love teaching.  I love coaxing unsure children and families into larger learning communities and watching them blossom and grow as they make friends, broaden their understanding of the world, all while being safe, kind and helpful along the way.  I love doing the voices of characters during storytime.  I was an anxious and insecure child, which is perhaps why I cannot contain my pleasure and awe as I watch my Super Stars explore and share freely, considering it a success when their use of me evolves from wanting me as their training wheels to simply going about their business with confidence and purpose while still considering me good company. Parents' heartstrings are pulled when they realize their children don't need them as much as they used to, while I revel in seeing how far my students go after our time together.  I've reported parents to Child Protective Services and I've encouraged families to seek out counseling and help, all as an advocate of children. "My kids" aren't mine because I'm some sort of surrogate parent, they're mine because of the affirming relationships and experiences we had during our time together, even if some of them weren't fun.  I have been and continue to be invested in not only their academic success but their well-being.

This morning, after reading through tweets and posts volleying back and forth debating teacher responsibilities, parent needs, and the disparities between state and national agencies that can't seem to get their stories straight regarding school openings, I thought it might be interesting to check back in on my state's Educator Code of Conduct.  Have you read your state's guiding educator document?  Mine is divided into three components, beginning not with responsibilities to my district or the profession itself, but to my students. I cannot help but believe that this is by design: children, our students, must come first.  Responsibilities to students include:

"Make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions detrimental to learning, health, or safety." 

"Nurturing the intellectual, physical, emotional, social and civic potential of all students."

"Fulfilling all mandatory reporting requirements for child abuse."

"Fulfilling the roles of mentor and advocate for students in a professional relationship."

Inappropriate conduct includes "committing any act of child abuse."

Recall that "child abuse" is defined as physical, sexual, and/or psychological maltreatment or neglect of a child or children, especially by a parent or a caregiver. Child abuse may include any act or failure to act by a parent or a caregiver that results in actual or potential harm to a child, and can occur in a child's home, or in the organizations, schools or communities the child interacts with.

Educators should understand that these responsibilities have been articulated not as suggestions but as requirements. We must protect children from anyone or any situation that may hurt them.  I would like to believe that students are listed first in the Code of Conduct not for sentimentality's sake or to advance public relations, but because a commitment to them must be prioritized.  I don't see how we can allow ourselves and others to pretend that schooling, education and child protection should take place as usual with possibly insufficient modifications touted as "protection," ignoring that we're in the middle of a global pandemic. COVID-19 is a potentially life-altering, deadly virus that we're still learning about.  Trying to convince others that it's a hoax, pretending that if we just turn off the television and unsubscribe from news alerts that all of this will just go away is irresponsible. So too, are punting and not-so-blindly hoping that our gamble will pay off as we "act as if" we're able to safely maneuver around a virus that may be transmitted by aerosol in classroom settings.  NASCAR won't even allow adult spectators who choose to observe social distancing into an open-air venue and many colleges and universities will spend the next semester or year only delivering content online.   Fake it 'til we make it isn't good enough, and hoping isn't an actual strategy.  Inventing "solutions" that from the outside appear creative, proactive and even entertaining, such as the pool noodle hats shouldn't actually convince anyone that schools will be safe enough.

This summer, like spring, has been overwhelming for us all. No matter how tempting, don't sit at home waiting for someone else to come up with a way forward that sounds doable to you.  Check your state's Code of Conduct for Educators, articulate your intentions and purposes as a teacher, and find a way or better yet, several, to contribute to the health, wellbeing, and safety of your students. Putting them first might require that we teach remotely even if our spring baptism wasn't all we had hoped it would be. Don't expect to have closure this weekend or at the end of the month.  We may not even get closure if we're back to brick and mortar, settling into a new routine when COVID-19 reminds us that we're on its timeline, not ours, and sends us all back into lockdown.  We're going to be uncomfortable, and frankly, we should be.  No one should be sleeping easily over the decisions we're trying to make, because we're the guinea pigs in the experiment that will create a data set from which future decisions will be made... unless we choose an experiment with a far less harmful and much less deadly possible outcome.

Sounds remarkably well aligned with my code of conduct, come to think of it.  How about yours?


I did not specifically mention accessibility, home abuse/neglect or inequality in education issues in this post because I'm assuming educational professionals are already well-versed in how they weight either side of the scale of school and other societal responsibilities.