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listen to teachers, reopen safely and reopen better

April 20, 2021

Listen to Teachers: Reopen Safely, and Reopen Better

Detroit teacher Corinne Lyons discusses the importance of listening to educators when planning on how to reopen our schools safely.

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By Corinne Lyons
 

Listen to Educators and Reopen Safely

Every teacher I know wants to return to school buildings. They want to teach face to face, for the full 7 1/2-hour day. They are not resisting a return to school.

We want it. We need it. We miss it.

What we ARE asking is to be able to teach face to face for 7 1/2 hours SAFELY. The argument about reopening school buildings for safe, in-person learning has to focus on students first. But it cannot be ignored that, without educators, there would be no one to teach those students. Our safety matters, too. So does our knowledge.

When the pandemic first began more than a year ago now, teachers were hailed as heroes and the adults responsible for the care and well-being of school-aged children got a small glimpse into how much specialized knowledge it takes to educate someone.

But ignoring our calls for safe classrooms, ignores our specialized knowledge.

Ignoring our calls for equitable access to broadband and high-quality electronic devices, so necessary for virtual learning, ignores our specialized knowledge.

Ignoring our very real statements about the conditions inside the classrooms we’ve worked in daily ignores our specialized knowledge. What’s worse is, this disregard for and dismissal of our knowledge feels as though you think we’re all lying.


 

"We are not resisting a return to school. We want it. We need it. We miss it."


 

But much of what we’re saying is obvious. Recognizing inequitable access to broadband and high-quality devices doesn’t take my college degree, or my specialized knowledge, but my heart.

Acknowledging that teachers have concerns about the conditions of classrooms across the nation doesn’t take my college degree, but my respect.

And acknowledging the very real concerns about the quality of virtual education doesn’t take my college degree, but my experience. Teachers know it is no replacement for what we do in brick-and-mortar buildings.

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Everything is 10 times harder virtually than in the classroom. Informal and formal assessments of students — their social-emotional development, mastery of topics, and even interests — are all harder virtually. Delivering lessons originally designed for the classroom is harder virtually. Building relationships with students and parents (and colleagues) is harder virtually.

Most importantly, with the fast pace at which schools closed at the beginning of the pandemic, we didn’t get the training or planning time we needed to transfer our specialized knowledge to a virtual space. We certainly didn’t learn those skills in our teacher preparation programs.

Still, we carry on, looking forward to the day we can return to school buildings and reopen safely — but making the best of the virtual learning that is our current reality. In the past year, I have joined my colleagues across the country in visiting homes to deliver materials, writing grants to be able to provide our students devices and other education tools they wouldn’t otherwise have access to, readjusting and modifying lessons for the digital space.


 

"Recognizing inequitable access to broadband doesn’t take my college degree, but my heart."


 

I’ve been a shoulder to cry on for colleagues, students and their parents — while needing a shoulder of my own — and so much more. We keep forging the kinds of relationships that last far past our students’ graduation days, relationships that mean our students rely on us even once they’ve left our classrooms.

My hope is that once we do return to school buildings, now that we know so much more about inequities and lack of access among students, we will take advantage of that knowledge, and of educators’ other specialized knowledge, and use it as an opportunity do something even better than what we were doing pre-pandemic.

The discussion about the “safe reopening of schools” should really be a discussion of how we want education in our country to look in five, 10, 20, 50 years. An equitable return to school buildings will look slightly different for everyone. This is the time to reimagine education and rebuild something better from the ashes.


Corinne Lyons is a member of the Detroit Federation of Teachers and an English language arts teacher at Sampson Webber Leadership Academy.

Republished with permission from AFT Voices.

American Federation of Teachers

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