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.