Now that school is out and we’ve all heard about Idaho’s worst legislative session ever, let’s reflect on our worst school year– and a half– ever. We’ve seen the public move between heralding teachers as the heroes of our society to completely attacking our educational system. What really happened, and more importantly, what can we do about it?
It began with the emergency shut down. Teachers rushed to create learning packets for our children and hand-delivered school work and meals to those in need. Computers and hotspots were disbursed. A surreal semester was struggled through, teachers and families trying to balance being at home with the urgent need for learning. We finished the year with an anticlimactic and heartbreaking Spring semester, as an entire class of students missed out on traditional mile markers with the weight of a global pandemic.
As summer hit, teachers and staff prepared for Fall, rewriting curriculum, learning more technology, attending long board meetings. Plans were made and unmade.
School started virtually. We tried to make connections and create engaged learning. All of the services schools provide were available, but it became apparent that families needed more support, and wanted their children in school.
We transitioned to hybrid learning. Students were lethargic and not engaged online. Teachers worked on the fly to come up with engaging tactics, often spending more energy on kids at home than those in class, creating two sets of lessons for every day, and prepping materials for non-school days and isolation. The turn-in rate was historically low, grades were kept afloat by teachers constantly emailing, calling home, using newer technology to get content taught.
At a time when we needed leadership and problem-solving, we received division. The reality of what was happening and what was needed got lost. Elected officials pitted parents against teachers, teachers against each other, school boards against districts, the public against education. Instead of pulling up to the table to work together in a crisis, obstacles and distractions were put in place when Idaho families were clamoring for support and quality education for their kids and schools were begging for guidance and resources but received little and less support and compensation during a year of constant overtime. The outcome: teachers and classified staff are burned out, disillusioned, and leaving the state, special education programs are drastically underfilled, and few are willing to sub. There is confusion and discourse among the public but still, parents want their kids in school, even though those very schools are being pulled apart at the seams.
So what do we do about our crumbling education system? Come together: That’s what productive communities do in crisis. We all agree that this was a hard year. Our weaknesses, fears, and insecurities were brought to light. The importance of education was brought to light. We can either learn from this year and how it helped us grow in a positive direction or shrink into negativity and distrust by focusing on distractions and fear. We don’t need to go back to the way it “was”. We must move forward. Even with all this conflict, we educators refined our processes, made education more accessible, built strong school communities, strengthened the value of education, and garnered more parent involvement. Education is clearly of value to Idahoans, so let’s come together to invest in it and work to grow a better public education system for all of us.