Welcome to 2020 where everything is going digital, whether you like it or not. You want to go to church? Online only. Want to go sit in a restaurant? To go, online order, touchless pickup is your solitary option. Send your kids to school? Heavens no–open up that Chromebook and log in for their eight hour zoom session. While none of this sounds particularly preferable, some industries have adapted better than others.
As we think about adaptation, a few things must be considered up front. First, the customer or consumer’s needs must be addressed as they are the entity making the product or service possible (i.e. the funding). Second, the employee or team members offering the product or service. Restaurants have, by and large, gone mobile for order (both delivery and pick up) with touchless procedures and general safety updates for team members allowing for no contact between the two parties. Grocery stores have implemented safety procedures for both staff and shoppers ranging from one-way aisles and direct-to-your-car delivery. Education, by and large, has not determined a solid back to market plan. There are two hard truths that drive this problem.
Hard Truth #1: Teachers unions and other “education” groups are standing in the way of student-focused experiences
First, teachers’ unions are not serious negotiators in considering what’s best for the children. No one expects them to have the kids at the forefront simply because they’re not the “children’s union,” they’re the teacher’s union. A brief look at the request/requirements/demands set forth by the Los Angeles Unified School District (teachers union) and further requested by the Demand Safe Schools group shows that the union goals are not focused on creating student learning opportunities, but in fact are more dedicated to maintaining their monopoly on the students.
The truth of the matter is the list of demands found on the Demand Safe School’s website shows several “requirements” to be met prior to opening schools this fall. The question parents and educators should be asking this group is, “How does removing police, canceling mortgages/rent, removing the competition of charters, removing state testing, etc. translate into better academic outcomes? How do those even correlate into student physical safety?
Hard Truth #2: There is unnecessary confusion around the teacher’s role in digital education
Secondly, no one seems to know how digital education and instructors work together in harmony. For too long edu-preneurs have spouted things like, “My new ed-tech product removes the need for the teacher completely!” Now, after years of data showing lower student academic performance, we know that teachers are incredibly important in educating students in all school formats. Luckily, I’ve seen a huge shift over the last 3-4 years in digital education circles where we, as a whole, are realizing the goal is not to replace the teacher. Instead the teacher is the key element and the digital applications, curriculum, and assessments are valued as the tools that they are—not stand-alone products and services, but tools in the toolbelt of great educators.
The problem of fall 2020 return to school plans? Districts and charters alike are falling into two main traps. First, district administrators are seeing teachers as a solution, but aren’t providing any tools. How can we send in the troops with no ammo, no armor, no air support, and no reinforcements? “Howdy teachers, here is your virtual classroom! We know that you’re used to a classroom, books, and hands-on manipulatives, but you get none of that. Here is your zoom room. Have a great year!” Teachers are often rock stars and one of the key tenants of a good teacher is the ability to think and act/react on the fly, but we can’t treat these hardworking individuals like they are full of literal magic and can pull a successful school year out of a virtual hat (especially when that’s not what they signed up for originally). That’s not reasonable, nor is it fair to these hardworking individuals to set them up for failure in such a manner.
Thirdly, districts and charters are buying up all of the cheap ed-tech products, cobbling them together last minute, and then handing the teachers a tiny tool bag overflowing with hard to use digital education tools with no instruction manuals and nonexistence professional development. Not all cheap tools are bad, but edtech seems to frequently be a “get what you pay for” option and truthfully all tools when used incorrectly are not as effective as when implemented with fidelity. Trust me, the picture in my house where I nailed it in using a shoe still has the rubber marks in the paint behind the frame and it’s not quite centered.
At the end of the day, we as parents, school educators, and district/charter administrators need to realize that teachers are an essential component of every school—whether traditional and in person, full-time online, or a hybrid of the two options. They are professionals who need the appropriate tools, training, and time to implement new features of their classroom and a whole lot of grace for this first month of school as they get used to employing new tools each and every day. Teachers are the linchpin in getting students to learn and getting students to learn is our key objective—well, everyone except the teachers’ unions.