Returning to “Normal”

Four excruciatingly long weeks ago, we left our classrooms.

My classroom is such an important part of the learning process, yet now it sits empty.

My classroom is such an important part of the learning process, yet now it sits empty.

So much has happened in those four weeks. Educators, meaning all of us who work in the school system, have scrambled to find ways to maintain connections with our students while remaining at home. We’ve tried, as much as we can, to continue the learning.

We’ve asked, repeatedly, when will things go back to normal?

Do we want them to return to that normal? This crisis education mode has put the spotlight on issues within our current system. When we return to classrooms and campuses, wouldn’t it be the perfect time to fix some of these issues? What happens when we go back?

You’ve most likely seen at least one news story over the past few weeks about laptops. Districts lending them, organizations taking donations, everyone trying to get these into the hands of students. Districts lent laptops, one per family, leaving students at the mercy of their siblings to get their work finished. Forget about signing in for synchronous classes in those situations. A mobile hotspot donation drive was announced to put 200 hotspots into the hands of Arizona K-12 students. Arizona has approximately 1,000,000 K-12 students across the state, meaning 200 hotspots will allow 0.02% to connect to the internet if they have a laptop.

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The “normal” in my classroom uses computers as the catalyst for discussion, not the substitute.

What about before the closure? If teachers were assigning homework that required the use of the internet, or something to be typed, was this ever taken into consideration? Connectivity is not something students can control, and stating that they can go to the library or stay late at school ignores the fact that often these same students are the ones riding the bus home each day.

Learning from home also assumes that students’ living environments are conducive to learning, that they have a place to learn, free from distractions. It implies that students are not working to support their families during this time of economic uncertainty. These same situations existed when our students were in the classroom each day and may have been the reason that that homework assignment was never submitted. We cannot control the living environments of our students, but we can control our expectations outside the classroom.

One of the hardest things about this time of crisis education is the loss of the personal connection. Our students have not only lost their connection with the supportive adult on their campuses, but also the connection with their peers. Student-to-student communication is an important part of the learning process, and something significantly lacking as our students learn from home. Did we consider these relationships to be an important part of the physical classroom? I always ask myself if I have done enough to build that rapport with my students and as a learning team. If you are asking students to participate in discussions on Google Classroom, but not in the physical classroom, why not?

These students whose voice may have been lost include our English language learners and our exceptional needs students. Meeting their needs through crisis education has been, to say the least, difficult. What about when we are in the classroom? Are their voices heard? Do they have everything they need to be successful? Have we provided them with the tools to reach their learning potential?

Critical thinking provides our students with a tool to survive adversity, yet it isn't tested.

Critical thinking provides our students with a tool to survive adversity, yet it isn’t tested.

We are depending on our parents to be the learning supervisors during this period, to help their children navigate these waters. I think this partnership with families is fantastic, and has the potential to build something truly spectacular. Schools can be the center of community, and if we find ways to involve parents in that community, we can build something special.

Above all, as I design learning opportunities for my students, it has led me to reflect on my content and pare it down to what is truly important. What could we, as a system, change to reflect the greater needs of our students and our future society? We teach what we do, in the way that we do, because of standardized testing. No standardized test has shown if my students can plant and care for a garden, if they can console a family member, or if they can repair a leaking toilet. Removing testing from the equation would allow us to transform education into something that values creativity and critical thinking so that we can face adversity such as this.

With all that we have spotlighted during this crisis, do we want to go back to normal? I know that I will make changes in my classroom, but I hope we can affect greater change throughout the system.

What will you change?

 

 

Melissa Girmscheid

Melissa is a passionate advocate for physics education. She is currently in her twelfth year of teaching high school students about the world around them through the study of physics and carries this passion to her secondary job developing and leading Computational Modeling in Physics First with Bootstrap workshops. Melissa is a Master Teacher Policy Fellow with the American Institute of Physics and American Association of Physics Teachers, and in 2019 worked with a team of Arizona physics superstars to successfully lobby for ongoing education funding for STEM and CTE teachers. Her goal is to ensure every student in Arizona has access to a high quality physics education. She continues to advocate for students as an Ambassador with the American Physical Society’s STEP UP program and a coach in the Arizona Educational Foundation’s teachSTEM program. Melissa achieved National Board certification is 2017 and now serves candidates as a Candidate Support Provider. She believes in the power of Modeling Instruction, student-centered learning, and the Five Core Propositions.

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