When I look at my two children sitting “in class” at our dining room table, staring at their iPads, I can’t help but think about how I never would have imagined education in this way.
I am a public school teacher at my local high school. I grew up in a small town in Texas where there was only one school campus for all twelve grades. If you would have told me in my first few years of teaching I would wind up leading all my classes via Zoom from my home, I would have written you off as a conspiracy theorist.
Little did I know that this experience would change my view on education forever. I realized this year, more than ever before, how important it is to have choices for your children’s education.
As I homeschooled my children during the COVID-19 quarantine, I realized how differently they learn. My son likes hands-on projects and science experiments. My daughter loves reading, art, and (funnily enough) doing math worksheets. Each day I would tailor their assignments to their learning style, offer extra support when needed, and let them excel further when they could. I started thinking about how I wished I could do similar things for my own classroom students.
The truth is, that level of customization would be difficult or impossible for a normal classroom teacher to achieve in many cases. There are so many more students’ needs to meet, and most of the students find themselves in the classroom not because it’s a great fit their parents have found for them but because it’s the nearest option.
Public school teachers do amazing work. What makes our work meaningful is the positive impact we can have, regardless of why or how a student ended up in our classroom. But I believe that, if we want to work toward every child really meeting his or her full potential, we need more school choice, so that students can find and access the classrooms where they are growing at their best pace.
For some students, their traditional public school meets all of their needs perfectly; others may excel more easily in a magnet school for the arts or a private school that specializes in reading disabilities. All students learn differently, at different speeds, and have different learning needs, and parents know their child better than any teacher ever could. The more we can support parents in having the option to choose the best educational setting for their child, regardless of household income, zip code, race, religion, or any other factor, the more our kids will be able to learn according to their likes and quirks and needs.
If we can offer them that, their pace of learning and potential for growth may very well surprise us. I never would have imagined the dining room school days and Zoom classes that would make up our educational experiences this year, but I am grateful that it’s allowed me to better understand my children’s learning styles and imagine more for my children’s future. I hope the difference that customized education through school choice can make is a lesson we all (teachers included) take away from this pandemic.