“Should We Send Kids Back to School?” (written by the guy who will teach them regardless)

A few days ago, I was mindlessly scrolling through social media when I stumbled across the next hot topic to debate in our society: Should kids go back to school? 

I’m not a doctor, so I can’t really participate in the “mask” debate (which is basically just people yelling their personal preferences incessantly and obnoxiously). I won’t dare try to tackle that topic because, well, it’d just be another opinion in the macrocosm.

But for this topic, I’m a teacher, so I feel that I have a little insight in this discussion.

Seeing an article here, a video there, and even a phone call to my brother who works in healthcare, I began to consider having a “take” on the subject. I mean, school is less than 2 months away, so I figured I could weigh in before big decisions are made. (And to answer your question: Yes, of course the highest education officials and agencies read this blog…)

Here’s the thing: you could ask 100 pediatricians (or teachers, or principals, or parents, or monkey’s uncles) if we should go back to school and I theoretically guarantee you that all 100 would not agree. On such an important issue, you’d think everyone would/should have the same thoughts, right? Especially the uncles. 

To be clear, this entire discussion is an opinion topic. When I teach informative vs opinion writing, I strongly express the difference between the two: informative writing gives only facts about a topic; it never gives a position on a matter. Opinion gives one perspective with reasons to help their audience believe what they believe.

I tell my kids when they’re writing opinion papers, “Try to convince me you’re right! Why should I believe you? Use quotes and data to defend your opinion!” 

Sound familiar with all the latest posts, tweets, articles, and videos in our media these days? This topic is an opinion topic. So regardless of what side of the fence you fall on, just know that it’s a subjective stance, not objective truth. 

So here’s my stance. Whatever decision is made for our kids, it needs to be consistent with what we teach our kids. 

Our Decision(s) Need To Be Safe

Whatever is decided, it needs to have safety at its core. I know the debate is always bringing up what’s “safest” for kids, but it’s hard not to hear the implied agendas lurking in the margins. 

I don’t claim to be a healthcare professional (I’ll get PD on that probably next year), but I do claim to be understanding of how a typical day at school works. 

It might be safer for kids to be at school, but is it safer for schools to be back with kids? 

For example, a high percentage of our bus drivers are in the at-risk category; how are they supposed to enforce social distancing? And cleaning? And multiple routes if there are supposed to be less kids per bus? Would more time behind the wheel give more opportunity to catch the virus? If we’re trying to get kids back to school, bus drivers play a critical role.

What about substitutes? An equally high percentage of our substitutes are elderly. And maybe even more across other districts. So when a teacher gets a virus (or needs a personal day, or has a doctor’s appointment, or, or, or), do we bring in a 80 year-old sub? Or cancel school for that class? Or do we just ask a neighboring teacher to absorb the students into their own classroom? (While maintaining social distancing rules, of course.) 

Or what about teachers themselves? Some are in the at-risk category, or maybe live with an at-risk family member, and they might not be comfortable being in a classroom of 30 germies. Even lowering the numbers, and practicing social distancing, one moment could seriously jeopardize a teacher’s well being. Who am I to force them to put their bodies and families at risk? Would that constitute hazard pay? Whoa… let’s avoid that rabbit trail. 

And there are more people involved in an average day at a school: lunch workers, office administrators, counselors, Instructional Assistants, and other members of the educational body.

Again, at the end of the day, our decision needs to have safety at its core. That’s what we preach to our kids every day, right? 

We Value Others and Give Respect

Yikes.

That’s asking an awful lot sometimes..! Currently, our media outlets are modeling the exact opposite behaviors we teach our kids: bullying, losing tempers, interrupting before listening, and bullying some more — and it doesn’t help that it’s an election year. 

In my classroom, we talk about Respect every. single. day. Whether I’m asking a student to apologize to the librarian or reminding a kid they can’t yell during a quiz, my little scholars are encouraged, advised, and warned about how to treat others. They need the reminders; we need the reminders. 

What do we teach our kids about disagreements? When my brother is being a stupid idiot because he doesn’t agree with me, my two options are to either bash him until he aligns with my thinking (or says he does to avoid more abuse), or I can flat-out ignore him and hold a personal grudge, right? 

No! When someone doesn’t subscribe to your opinion, it’s wrong to resort to name-calling, bullying, or shunning that person. Why would you? It’s an opinion. So if you’re having a disagreement with someone about going back to school (or any other topic…), you need to have an open hand and listen to why someone has a different perspective.  

Now that I’m an adult, I’m not somehow above respecting others. It’s harder said than done; that’s why we teach it to our students over and over and over again. Speaking for myself, I need to practice what I teach. 

We Do Our Best With The Tasks We’re Given

How many times do you think a child hears the phrase “Do your best” before they turn 10? I can confidently say probably about a jillion times. 

Responsibility is also a big piece to this complicated puzzle. Whatever is decided, someone will be upset. If you’re that someone or not, your job (and my job) is to be responsible with the task assigned.

We need to do our best with the hand we’re given. Some people are dealt a Full House, while some are dealt off-suit 2 and 7. Some families have the luxury of having zero technology barriers or transportation issues; others might be living in a multi-generational home, with grandma babysitting while single mom is working the night shift. 

So when someone weighs in on the discussion, know that their perspective is very likely involved in how they think. (Remember your training from the previous section on how to cooperate with someone who thinks differently than you.)

Taking responsibility is the hard part. When we’re tasked with something we don’t want to do, the natural, human response is to fight back and pursue comfort.

If you’re stuck with kids learning from home this next year, you have to do the hard thing and support your child; if I’m asked to do more distance learning as a teacher and take up the challenge of connecting virtually while teaching online, I have to do the hard thing an– actually, I’ll just quit. 

Kidding! If I signed up to be a teacher, that includes all mediums, students, and trials. 

Every teacher (and parent, and monkey’s uncle) has had at least one dispute with a child concerning school work. And at the end of that discussion, it typically concludes with the adult saying, “I know you don’t want to do it, but it’s part of learning and growing up. It was assigned to you, so we are going to do our best. I’m here to help if you need it! It’s your responsibility as a 10 year-old.” 

Now take that same phrase, change the age at the end, and apply it to the context of the complications we’re going to experience next year. If we have to have kids learning from home in some capacity, I know a lot of parents/families don’t want to do it; but it’s part of our kids’ learning; it was assigned to us, so we are going to do our best. And if you need help, I’m here! (probably more in theory than in person)

Model responsibility. If nothing else, show your students how to take a challenge head on and how to accept a role. I know we teachers will be trying to do the same. 

Try To Understand Other Perspectives

The decision made will affect each family differently. Period. The problem with making decisions for the general public is that when you look closely, the individual cases in the public can’t fit under generalizations.

Empathy is a critical character trait that needs to be taught, cultivated, and revisited over and over. Similar to subject-specific tasks, some kids (and people) are better at it than others. If I said “Going back to school is the best option for everyone”, I haven’t consulted everyone, so I can’t make that statement. (And by using the word “best”, I’ve now engaged in an opinion discussion.)

So if I strongly believe one way, there’s going to be someone who feels the opposite way with good reasons as well. If the Powers That Be decide it’s up to families to decide on their own, I encourage you to make the right choice for your family and to listen to people on the other side. 

Don’t complain about the decision; instead, support your kid in whatever learning path is given. 

Don’t close your ears to differing perspectives; instead, listen to how others are thinking or feeling.

Don’t make fun of people to their face; instead, bash them on social media. (jk don’t do that)

In the classroom, we teach students to empathize with others. Out of the classroom, the world is big enough for us to do the same. 

We Accept When We Are Wrong and We Are Open To Make Changes

Now, it’s too early to tell what the “right” decision is, that’s why the debate is still raging pretty hard. Based on science and other massive variables that are nearly impossible to predict or account for, there could eventually be a protocol on what is best in a situation like this. 

Since it’s too early to really tell, we need to understand that a decision that’s made could be the “wrong” one. Again, this is where the arguments get muddy because we don’t have all the information required to make a choice, so we’re stuck with opinionated guesswork. 

All I’m requesting is for people (you, me, Big Education) to be open to adjusting when we’ve noticed we’re mistaken. Being open to revision and willing to say, “I was wrong. Let’s make a change” is what we try to instill in our kids; if a student refuses to accept 2 + 2 = 4 out of stubbornness, they have abandoned reason for pride. If you’re going the wrong way on a path, it’s not considered more progress to continue walking; you have to turn around for any progress to be made.

In the same breath, when a change is made, I implore the masses to not bash and bully the people behind it. I mean, everyone likes hearing “I TOLD YOU SO!!!” after they made a mistake, right? 

Extend grace to the people making tough decisions; show kindness to them when new information is available. And in the meantime, do what’s best for you and your family without forcing your choice on others.  

Closure

Man in Yellow Crew Neck T-shirt Writing on White Paper

What I’m calling for is that we model for our kids what we teach at school. We as adults need to make our decision(s) based on what is safe. We need to respect people and potential differing opinions with empathy. We need to do our best. And we should be open to change if/when it’s needed. 

Remember, this is an opinion discussion, regardless of how passionately someone feels. So when you see someone on the news making a spirited, dramatic speech, remember it’s just another person sharing their perspective. They’re trying to convince you, just like I ask my kids to do when writing opinion papers. 

At the end of the day, I don’t know of a single teacher who would want to have to teach from home. We want to be in the classroom, building relationships, telling jokes, and not having to ask kids to mute themselves a hundred times each Zoom session. Teachers are most at home in a classroom; who else would go to college in order to go back into school? We all want to go back, but we also want to do what’s safest for everyone involved.

But then again, that’s just my perspective; I haven’t talked to every teacher. 

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