The business of education in the US falls on the individual states. Therefore, there is a vast discrepancy in funding, teacher preparation, and access to technology. Some of the information in this article might not fit some states, cities, and districts. But the following comments are the reality where this writer lives. The changes in the public school system since the onset of the pandemic have been fast and furious. Many parents, teachers, students, support staff, and administrators have had to bob and weave every step of the way since March. Teaching and learning in most public schools have needed an overhaul for many years. It’s beyond unfortunate that a pandemic had to occur to make it happen. The main problem is that all of this change came so quickly and unexpectedly, no one was prepared.
The price we’re paying
This lack of preparation has many veins. First, there’s the cost of implementing the hardware and software needed to go remote, not to mention the staff training involved. Many districts are also having to purchase or upgrade their one-to-one technology, which is a crippling expense. But it’s not just the cost of all the new equipment and training; it’s the challenge of teaching old dogs new tricks. The emotional toll teachers are enduring as they adjust to an entirely new system is beyond overwhelming. And the rules of the game are changing at a warp-speed pace. Just when schools think they have it all figured out, a new mandate is issued, or an unexpected problem arises. And the stress trickles down to the families who are having to restructure their lives to accommodate this new style of education.
Families with children in school are struggling as they attempt to add more to their overflowing cup. Parents are now adding teacher to their long list of duties, and for many, the responsibilities are overwhelming. Working full-time, finding daycare, procuring the technology to sustain remote learning, holding their kids accountable, worrying their education is suffering — it’s all too much, and there’s nothing they can do to change any of it right now. Sadly, many families are falling apart over the added stress of their children being home and having life as usual disrupted. In some cases, the fallout is more family trauma. In a lot of instances, the harm inflicted is irreparable.
And if you are worried your children are not getting a good education right now, you should be. Even though teachers are working harder than ever to adjust and plan remotely and make learning packets, nothing can replace face-to-face learning. Students need physical access to their teachers for guidance and instruction, and students deserve immediate feedback on their efforts. Sadly, much of what students require for a well-rounded learning experience cannot be delivered solely through a computer screen.
For every teacher, coach, student, athlete, and parent out there right now, there are missed opportunities that cannot be recreated. Sporting events, academic contests, Senior nights, Homecomings, Proms, musical performances, art shows — and the list goes on. Many of these events are the parts of the school experience students and parents remember the most. But for six months now, the fields, auditoriums, courts, and stages have been empty. These are missed opportunities they will never get back. No classroom parties, no playground fun, no spelling bees. No games, no trophies, no medals, no bus rides. No Homecoming week activities, no Prom-posals, no photos — no memories. And this is just the social void. The academic toll is also concerning.
A silver lining
The good that has come about from this hurricane of change is encouraging. Many schools that lacked adequate technology have upgraded. Most teachers who were deficient in more advanced computer and technology skills are now up-to-speed; and older, less effective teaching methods have been forced out. Another positive outcome is the newfound respect educators are receiving for stepping up and doing whatever it takes to educate their students.
What has become more evident than ever is students need a balance of online and face-to-face learning. When students are allowed back in buildings, there must be a change in how education is delivered. After all the work everyone has put in with technology, it would be ridiculous to step backward. For the most part, schools needed to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of technology. Teachers and all people in education are responsible for preparing the next generations for an ever-changing digital age. That is a massive undertaking none of them take lightly, especially after what they have endured over the past six months.
The good news — many districts that were barely staying afloat concerning technology are now onboard, making their schools better equipped to teach in the digital age. This outcome is a positive change. However, many families caught in the swath of destruction this storm created have not weathered so well. And the storm is not over. Only time will reveal all the damage and the scope of the post-storm clean-up. But one thing is for sure, education will never be the same.