Back in April of 2020 we had a conversation with two teachers, Kara in the Minneapolis area, and Zoe in Philadelphia. They shared their struggles with shifting to remote school, trying to reach their students to provide devices, hot spots, and food, and the challenge of supporting the students with the greatest needs through the early days of the COVID crisis.

Today, it’s easy for parents to feel like things are almost back to normal in schools. However, in many ways, teachers are feeling the cost of the crisis more acutely now than at any point in the past two years. From staffing shortages to second hand trauma, teachers are under increasing stress and pressure to the point that many are considering leaving the profession.

We revisit some of the conversation from back in April, and then talk about the current realities and what parents and caregivers might do to support public education in these trying times.

LINKS:

Special thanks to Erin Pier for helping open Andrew’s eyes to the crisis in teaching.

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The Integrated Schools Podcast was created by Courtney Mykytyn and Andrew Lefkowits.

This episode was produced by Andrew Lefkowits and Val Brown. It was edited, and mixed by Andrew Lefkowits.

Music by Kevin Casey.

 

Transcript

Andrew: Welcome to the Integrated Schools Podcast. I'm Andrew, a White dad from Denver. 

Val: I'm Val, a Black mom from North Carolina. 

Andrew: This is COVID Teacher Check-In Revisited. And we're going back to the archives this week, Val, for a conversation we had with a couple of teachers, Kara and Zoe, back actually in April of 2020. 

Val: Awesome. Do you remember what April 2020 was like for you as a parent of school aged children?

Andrew: Uh, that feels like so long ago. We had just shut down, maybe, six weeks earlier, figuring out how are we going to do remote school? I know my kids had nothing that was, like, scheduled at all. My, my daughter was in kindergarten. I had to read everything, all the assignments to her! It took her, like, 20 minutes to get them done.

And that was it. And then, and then she was just hanging out at home with me. My third grader at the time. She was pretty well self-directed, with some online  assignments. But yeah, it was, it was a crazy time. How about you?

Val: It was. I feel like the first round were several, like, of the packets? I think we were instructed to, like, print out all the packets and turn that in. I think I laughed out loud as I was not doing that. Um, I had a fifth grader who, you know, was at the very end of her “senior year” in elementary school. So that all just stopped. 

She ended up having a drive-thru graduation a month later where, you know, we drove up, she ran out, took a picture, like, six feet from each of her teachers. And then, like, you had a little parade. And then I had a sixth grader who's just figuring out the middle school schedule and, you know, that kind of stopped.

And interestingly enough, we took cupcakes to school that Friday (his birthday was the next day), not knowing that that was the last time that he would see his friends and everything. And that was it! The end. 

Andrew: I knew, I knew that COVID was serious when they canceled the talent show. 

Val: Hmm. Okay, say more. 

Andrew: That, that, that night is a serious event every year. The whole school community shows up. It's been that way since I was a student at that school. They were like, “we can't do the talent show.”  I was like, oh, this might be a real thing here.

Val: This might be a real thing. And here we are. 2021! Still very much living a COVID school experience.

Andrew: Yeah. I think one of the reasons I wanted to kind of rerun this conversation is that it's been so easy for me, as this school year has started, to feel like things are normal. To feel like we're kind of out of the woods on this. You know, I show up in the morning, I drop my kids off, I pick them up. You know, they're wearing masks, but otherwise, my experience as a parent is pretty similar, with the exception that I can't actually be in the building. I can't, like, go visit. I can't be, you know, talking to teachers and stuff like that. And so it's pretty easy for me to feel like maybe we're kind of on the other side of it already? And, in talking to teachers, I, like, that is not at all true.

Val: Right. I can definitely relate to that sense of normalcy, right? I take them to school. They get out with their mask. I pick them up. And I'm also married to an educator, a high school teacher. And so, I do hear daily just how difficult this year is. Not only from him, but from several of my educator friends who I think just honestly used up all of their reserves to get through last year? And are just tired, right? 

And so, that moment in time, that really brief moment in time from when schools closed in 2020 until that summer, there was just a love-fest for educators everywhere. And then, the next school year, I felt like people forgot the love. And, and, and now I feel like people might be forgetting the teachers, even though they're screaming at the top of their lungs, “This, this is unsustainable.” I recognize a true crisis. 

Andrew: Yeah. So we're going to hear this conversation from right at the very beginning of it. I think a lot of the themes that Kara and Zoe bring up are really still relevant today. And then we'll actually get an update from them, and then you and I can meet on the other side and talk about what we heard. 

Val: Let's take a listen. 

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Kara: Thank you for having me. My name is Kara Cisco, and I am a teacher and a parent in the Minneapolis area. And I've been teaching for 15 years. I teach ninth grade Civics and 12th grade Ethnic Studies. 

My children are biracial, and my children attend a school that is just a few walks from our house that is 99% free and reduced lunch, and a good 75-76% English language learners.

Andrew: Awesome. Zoe?

Zoe: My name is Zoe Rooney. I am a biracial mom of two boys in Philadelphia. I am also a ninth grade teacher. I teach Algebra I, and my kids attend our neighborhood public school here in Philly.

Andrew: So prior to schools closing, social distancing, the COVID outbreak, what were your days like as teachers in your schools?

Kara: In terms of my day to day, I teach four sections of ninth grade civics, which is, like, my passion. I think that civics is the most important class right now! Like, I think algebra is important too, Zoe, I don't want to step on your toes. But I just, I feel like in this space there's like a 20-25 year gap where people that are our generation just did not receive civics instruction that was intended for social discord. It was intended for pure, raw American exceptionalism in its most egregious form. So, I think that we're just trying to build some of that back. 

Andrew: Yeah, how about you, Zoe? 

Zoe: So, the school that I work at in Philly is a really interesting place. It's almost entirely Black students, a couple of Latinx students. It is in one of the highest poverty neighborhoods in the city. And it is a school that was slated for closure within the last couple of years because it has been under-enrolled and it has not performed especially well on the standard metrics that schools are judged by.

So, we were already focused pretty heavily on things like building relationships with students. And we have students who are on a whole range of academic levels coming in. More than half of our students have individual education plans, so they receive special education services. We have a large number of students that bounce in and out of the juvenile justice system. 

So day to day, the logistics of that are that I go in and I teach three 90-minute sections of Algebra I to all of our ninth graders. But that also looks like a lot of talking to kids about what's going on in their lives, and helping them access resources whenever they need resources, talking to families. Managing a whole host of things that come up at any given day in my students' lives impact their ability to succeed at school.

So, it's been interesting because in some ways that's changed since we closed down, and in some ways it's really just highlighting the sort of things that we already felt were important, but we weren't able to prioritize as much as we wanted to, given the other structures that, you know, need to be in place in a day to day school.

Andrew: Hmm, right. So, I know that schools have put in a lot of effort to track down kids, to get them devices, et cetera. And I know that there are some kids who you continue to not be able to reach. And I'm guessing that those are your most vulnerable kids. Um, what is our - and I, and I don't mean, you know, like you personally as teachers - but sort of as a society, as an educational system. What do you think about our obligation to those kids in this time? Is it, is it just impossible to live up to that given the circumstances?

Zoe: I don't think it's, I don't think it's any less possible now than it was before school closed. But it has really highlighted the ways that our other systems are failing. Which I think so much of this school closure has highlighted is the way that all of our systems around our schools and around our kids as safety nets are sort of failing them. And the schools are stepping in. 

Because the kids that I can't reach should be reachable through other social services. And they're also not through those social services right now. And so that's, I think partly what's scary about it, is that we're doing probably the best out of a lot of the services available to those kids as far as reaching them. And we still can't get them all. And it doesn't seem like anybody else is really stepping in either to have that contact.

Andrew: Yeah.

Kara: I mean, here's the deal. Like, of course teachers are gonna be concerned about that because that's, we can't not. Otherwise, we're in the wrong job. And, I hope that we can take a lesson from this experience in terms of the way that we see responsibility as a community because our social and societal health is critical. 

And teachers in schools do way too much. I think if anything, this crisis has laid that to bare for all of us to see. Just the way that we saw schools across the nation scramble to put together lunches, to get technology in homes, to overcome the digital divide, which is something that we shouldn't even be talking about. It's 2020. Everyone deserves to be connected to the internet. Right?

Andrew: And certainly we shouldn’t be turning to schools to solve that problem. Right?

Kara: No, no.

Andrew: That is a big, society wide problem, not a school problem.

Kara: This is the lesson. This is the thing that I would like us to emerge, you know, a better, healthier society from: Of course teachers are going to worry about their kids. Of course we're going to care. But there's no kid on the planet that wants to be truant all the time, or that wants to be like quote unquote, big air quotes, a bad kid. Or wants to display behavior that constantly finds them facing more exclusionary discipline, or what have you.

Those are all symptoms of larger problems that are supposed to be solved by way more people than the ones that are in our school buildings.

Andrew: Yeah. I mean, if this crisis has shown us anything, it is all of the inequities that exist that we now see so clearly because kids are sitting at home all day every day. That, like you said Zoe, it’s the same stuff that was happening before the crisis, but now we can't hide anymore. And, we used to think that if you just put them all in the same building that teachers and administrators could just, like, fix all of these big massive underlying problems.

Zoe: Right. But I think, what's a little scary about this is that there are still huge populations that are very hidden in this, and that are really hidden from the majority of parents and even from a lot of educators. And so I would say that those are largely the students who have significant special education needs, and English language learners, and then to some extent, some of our LGBTQ students. 

In a previous episode of the podcast, you talked about how our home school situations are more segregated than ever, right? And what happens with that is that unless you have a student or a child in your home that is in one of those, kind of, groups of students, you are completely not aware of what the struggles are for those families and those students.

And that is really hidden right now. That's something I'm pretty concerned about as we continue with this.

Andrew: So it sounds like there's a lot of reasons for school districts to be really thoughtful about the systems that they're implementing and things they're putting in place, but maybe there's also some role for parents to play in terms of thinking about these bigger pictures here. Like what, what should parents be doing?

Zoe: So, I think one thing I would really like parents to think about is if there are things that they feel like they need from teachers or schools, is to try and be really reflective about what the sort of root level of need is that they're trying to have the teacher or the school address. And I think if parents can be really thoughtful about what the actual need is, then that would allow us as teachers to help them problem-solve that need, while also accounting for all the other students and families and needs that we have. 

Because I can address a need for structure with a family who really needs that in some ways, but may not mean my whole class needs to have that same structure.

Andrew: Needs to log in at 9am and have a class meeting at 9:45, and get your stuff done by noon. Yeah.

Zoe: Right. So I think that if parents can have that level of honesty and transparency back with teachers and say, you know, “I'm asking for these things because I'm having trouble with X, Y, and Z,” then that, that allows us to problem solve in a more collaborative way that is more generative and based on my understanding of all my students versus just saying, “I need you to have a schedule where they're logging in and I need them to have grades.” That's not the same thing. And that's going to penalize some of my students in a way that is not what we're going for.

Andrew: There's this piece of the importance of relationships, that you need to know your students. And I, you know, I'm struck that you and your districts, I think, you know, to their credit, have both put a lot of time and thought and energy into figuring out how to reach families - the right methods of communication, the right content to deliver to them so that they will engage, the right platforms to use. And there seems to be a real intensive effort around that. But it seems like that should be what schools are doing all the time.

There's, like, a sense in normal times that if you don't show up, it's because you don't care. Or if you don't respond to the message from your teacher, it's because you're not a good parent. And now in this sort of brief window, we have this sense of “Well, everybody's got different needs and different stresses in their lives, so let's find a way to reach out and get in touch with them.” But it seems like we should be doing that all the time, no?

Zoe: Yeah. I mean, I think, I think to an extent, a lot of things had to get out of the way for that to happen. 

Kara: I guess my question to you, Andrew, and I mean, I agree with you, but with regards to the, you know, that thought, I think that sometimes pops into, into people's heads about like, “Well, if this parent doesn't respond, it's because they don't care. If this student doesn't respond, it's because they're a bad kid.” How often is that a racialized comment? Right? 

I mean, I think Zoe and I represent two teachers that have put in a lot of work, in terms of understanding the function of White culture and White supremacy on all of our systems. The education system included. And so I think it takes, kind of, a certain awareness to put aside the excuses and the shame, blame kind of culture that develops around communities and to be able to say, “No, we're going to get to the bottom of this.” 

Because if you say, “Oh, it’s because they don't care,” what you're doing is you're, is, you're passing off that responsibility. You're saying, “Well, they don't care, so I don't need to worry about it.” And that's, I mean that, it's not fair to the schools. It's not fair to the kids. It's not fair to the families, but it's perfectly inline with our school system.

Zoe: That's true. And I would also just highlight that it's not like you were saying, I think both of us have spent a lot of time thinking about this, but there are unfortunately plenty of teachers in my school district who do not think that way. And there is still a lot of shifting of blame or shifting responsibility.

Andrew: Yup. It seems like one of the things that is helping you is this ability to build community with the students in your school, and also with their families. And like you said, Zoe, a lot of things had to get out of your way to be able to really focus on that. And it seems like those things are the things that make, at least in my mind, an actually good school. But those are not the things that make what is sort of traditionally considered a “good school.” Those are not things that get, at least as far as I'm aware of, don't get measured in any meaningful way. Don't play a role in anybody's accountability, in teacher evaluations, in any of those things.

Zoe: I think, I think that's true. I think what I've had to learn and what I'm still trying to figure out is the idea that taking away some of those more objective measures, it's great in some ways cause it does get out of our way. And it takes away objective measures that are built on White supremacist ideas and that are not reflective of anything meaningful about our students.

So that, that's good. But on the other hand, all of the subjective metrics we have in ways of judging students are also often racist. Right? So it is also scary to take away all of the objectivity in all of this as well. And I haven't figured out how to balance those things yet.

Andrew: Right. If we only rely on subjective metrics, then all of the underlying racist assumptions that we bring about kids have even more of a chance to show up. But the objective metrics are also plagued by White supremacy. Like, we want our kids to feel welcomed and be themselves and, and be known in community in their schools, but we also want them to be ready for the next grade.

Zoe: So I used to teach eighth grade, and I am really concerned about our eighth graders who are coming into high school next year. There's going to be ground to make up. But I'm, my primary concern is still not even necessarily about those kids, it really is going back to that idea of special education and students who are English language learners. Because I think that those are the categories of students who are, not only not progressing right now, but are at risk of regressing and losing ground. Our students who have complex emotional needs, physical disabilities, who have autistic support needs, who don't have the same access to technology because they're deaf or hard of hearing, or they're blind or they are still learning English. Those students are really gonna have a hard time even maintaining the point they're at now. 

Kara: I would add undocumented students to the list as well. 

Andrew: Yeah. I mean, I'm definitely acutely feeling the loss of the broader school community. That's a thing I've heard a lot of White and/or privileged parents struggling with right now is, sort of, what space should we be taking up? You know what, what is our role in this moment, given the fact that our kids come with a cushion of privilege that softens the blow of this missed time? And so, what is our role in this moment?

Kara: I have been thinking about that too, with like regards to more than anything, like the parents in my daughter's classroom. I feel like one of, like, maybe the key responsibilities of being the other, you know what I mean? There's, like, very few White parents and the school. I think one of the key responsibilities is like integrating as a parent into that environment. And I've failed at that. And I don't blame myself because of my job. But I know how important it is to, like, on the ground level, organize and be not, you know, as the leader, right? But just as, like, a person who's willing to engage in, like, the PTA groups, and the equity meetings, and the text messages, and I'm not. Ugh, it's, that's been really weighing on me, hard.

Andrew: That when your school community finds itself in need, you don't feel connected to it. Because, where would you find the time to be connected to that when so much school community connection energy of yours is spent at work.

Kara: Right. And I don't have time right now. I mean, I got through the day just, thanks, on like extra sugar from leftover Easter Peeps alone. I'm working twice as hard right now, I promise you!

Zoe: But, I do think it's, it's worth talking about. In terms of, like, what we can all kind of learn from this. I mean, we really don't want to go back. And, Kara, you mentioned this when you were talking about civics before. We don't want to go back to where we were, because where we were was broken in a lot of ways. And the only way that we can really improve on this situation is by kind of blowing up some of the stuff in our systems that clearly weren't working. 

So I think what I would want parents, especially the parents in positions of privilege to do, is to really, kind of, focus in on what your priorities are in this moment. Because they're different than what they were before. And maybe, like, write them down and think about as your situation changes over the next couple of weeks, and as different things happen in your family and your friend circles and in your jobs and your life, how did those things shift your priorities? And then keep listening to everybody else around you. 

So I think that's where we all have a kind of collective power is to think about the ways that our systems aren't serving any of us, but we can't do that unless we're continuing to talk to each other and listen to each other and hear those stories.

Andrew: Yeah. Know each other.

Kara: You stated that so perfectly, Zoe. Like systems, when they're disrupted, want to settle back into the old cracks that were long existing, right? And so, we at this point should have every expectation that when we come back in September, or whatever it is that we happen to come back, we should have every expectation that the system is just going to settle into like the old broken way that things were done before and we should have that expectation so that we can plan now, right? In order to make sure to take all the steps that we need to in order to ensure that that doesn't happen. We need to have a plan. And that's kind of where that community piece comes in.

Zoe: And I don't want people to lose sight of, and this might sound kind of cold,   but I don't want people to sort of lose sight of the way that they are feeling in the circumstances that they're up against right now. And the way that that impacts their priorities and their choices and what they think is really important for their family down the line once they have bounced back.

I want people to sort of remember what it is like to have your priorities shift because you are dealing with a lot of different demands on your time and your emotions.

Andrew: That are out of your control,

Zoe: That are out of your control. Because I think, in remembering that, people will be able to have more empathy for everyone else in their community down the line when different things are out of other people's control.

Andrew: Yeah. There's such potential in this moment because we have proven that all sorts of things that we thought could never change have changed, right? Like we have, we have made a massive overhaul to the way we do just about everything in society because there was the will to do it. And, so there's like potential in that. 

But I worry because you know, there is something frightening to me about empowered, well intentioned, isolated White people.

Kara: Yeah. Scary.

Andrew: We have a track record of not making good decisions and, and we're all stuck at home. You know, I spent a lot of time thinking like, I have flexibility now, I have privilege, I'm not an essential worker, I'm very fortunate right now. And so I have time to think about what do I want the world to look like on the other side of this. But if I'm not doing that in community with people who don't look like me, with people who don't come from the same background as me, with people who don't have the same experiences as me, I worry about my own ability to try to drive positive change.

And so through this moment, I fear that we take all this potential for good, this sort of reshuffling that we now need to rebuild, but also the social distancing that makes it even harder to build that sense of community.  The sense of connection to other families. That when it comes time to activate, what are we going to activate towards? Because I think just activating towards what we think might be good is dangerous.

Kara: Absolutely.

Zoe: Yeah. Well, and I think for me, what I've been trying to keep doing to reorient myself is to think about - so in school terms, if we started with the students who are at most of that risk of regression, and we focused there first, right? And we solve for providing those students as much as we possibly could first, and then we dealt with everybody else down the line, that would be a fundamental shift in how we think about prioritization in schools. And if we started with those students then I think we'd be in a much better position for all students and we would be really focused on actual equity, right? 

‘Cause even as you're saying, you know, we've made a lot of shifts in how we're doing almost everything, but I still think we've made all those shifts, but on whose back, right? And if we look at the rates of Black workers who are still out doing low wage essential jobs and are therefore at a much higher risk of both infection and then are receiving subpar medical care in a lot of places, I mean, we are making some changes, but we're not making them for everyone. And the changes that we are making are on the backs of people who are getting the least support from our systems. 

Andrew: As they’ve always been, right?

Zoe: As they've always been. 

Andrew: What, what lessons do you hope we'll learn from this time?

Kara: You know, we mentioned being in community. One of the dumb excuses that I frequently would tell myself as to why I wasn't more involved with my daughter's school was that, you know, I don't speak Spanish and almost all of the parents do. I'm here to tell you that I have had probably 50 text message conversations over Google translate that have gone completely fine. And so I think that those are sort of the things that we can learn and build from is using some of the lessons with regards to video conferencing and with regards to reaching out. 

Andrew: Google translate,

Kara: Google translate! Yeah.

Zoe: Yeah. I'd also just say like using the lesson that we have all learned really sharply about how central schools are as a social safety net and as a social services provider. And so, if we really recognize that now, then what we can all do moving forward is treat schools and people who work in schools as such, and give them the level of respect for what they know about students and student communities that they deserve. 

Because, like Kara was saying, if you ask the people who work in schools and not just teachers, all of the staff members, the building staff who work in schools, they know a lot about those communities. They know a lot about the needs, and they know a lot about what steps we should be taking to appropriately meet the needs of everybody, and we haven't really been listening to schools, and to the people who are actually in the schools, and to the students who are actually in the schools.

And so I think that that's something that we really can leverage across privilege and race, is saying like, “We just saw that these systems are incredibly reliant on schools and on educators and on and on food services providers, so those are the people who we need to be going and asking questions of when we're talking about systemic and policy changes.”

Andrew: Right. Yeah. To be able to see the expertise that exists. That expertise comes from building community with those families and building relationships with those students. And that's something that our teachers do that we don't often give them enough credit for, I think.

Kara: Well, and then, when we think about trauma-informed teaching, the way that this crisis is disproportionately impacting African-American people. I mean, that's gonna impact our students in our schools and the whole ecosystem of our communities in ways that are unforeseen.

Andrew: Yeah.

Kara: So therefore, there's like all of these lessons that we're picking up, we have another crisis kind of coming right for us to immediately apply some of these lessons on the front end.

Zoe: And that's the sort of ecosystem in which I think that the parents who hold privilege can be effective. Where if they're saying, you know “We've seen how important public education is vividly for our students and for all students, and we're going to work really hard to amplify the voices of the people who work in buildings and the students in the buildings to talk about what actually is meaningful for them.” I think there's a lot of things that parents, like Kara said, have a lot of power on, if they raise their voices about them.

Andrew: I really appreciate both of your time and your perspectives and just deeply grateful for the work that you are both doing in your cities. I think I can thank you both on behalf of  - you can take it for all of the teachers who are out there in the midst of this. I've always had a great deal of respect for teachers, but even more so now, given all the things that are on your plate, I'm incredibly grateful that there are teachers out there and that there are teachers as thoughtful and compassionate as you.

Zoe: Well, thanks.

Andrew: Thank you very much for coming on.

Kara: Thank you for having us, Andrew.

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Andrew: So that was way back in April of 2020, and I asked Kara and Zoe to send a voice memo with some updates, and here's what Kara had to say. 

Kara: Hey, Andrew, this is Kara Cisco. And it's November, 2021. Uh, pandemic is still going. I'm back in the classroom full time. We were hybrid for the better part of last year, and I guess I just, I am very excited to be back with students.

I was nervous about the sheer levels of trauma that students would be bringing with them and dealing with. Uh, it is really, it has really has really played out in a way that is hard, devastating, makes learning really difficult, and, you can only imagine like the types of just heavy, terrible, sad, distracting, like, unimaginable things that students carry with them in larger numbers than I've ever experienced before. 

The good thing, I guess, is that the learning loss that everyone was speaking about, like, it isn't really there as much as I expected. And actually, I think there's been some gains in terms of just a new level of executive functioning that a lot of students are coming with. Not all, but a lot. Um, students are better at prioritizing tasks, about starting and finishing assignments without a lot of adult support. Better at, like, list-making, making sure things are completed by due dates. They're certainly more technologically proficient. That's no surprise. 

What I'm seeing instead of the learning loss that we read about is like a lot of social, emotional skill loss. I'm seeing students come in with far less conflict resolution skills, less skills when it comes to group work. More anxiety with a large number of people. I'm seeing students that are less proficient at, like, redirecting themselves when they find themselves getting off track. So you can imagine this plays out in a lot of ways in which our most underserved students are impacted the most, also which is unfortunately common in education. 

And I think it would look a little bit different, if it wasn't just for the labor shortage that we're experiencing. We could have more of a handle on it if we had a full staff of both paraprofessionals, but also just teachers, licensed teachers.

I think other parts of the labor shortage are just dehumanizing, frankly. For students, for staff. Sometimes dangerous. Buildings are messy, bathrooms have to get locked up because there aren't enough staff available to, like, fix or really maintain them. Many classes are stuck in larger spaces, like, the cafeteria or the auditorium. And so, I mean, this, this is a problem that perpetuates itself because, of course, all of these things cause more staff to leave and then it just continues.

And it struck me in talking to teacher friends everywhere across the country, is that this is every school. It's every school! It’s actually very stunning and it certainly speaks to how much of a crisis that we're at in public education. 

One of the things that I kind of look back on and I guess sort of laugh, I don't know what, at our hubris. Like how much talk there was that, myself included, about how much, like, education was going to change. And we were going to kind of reinvent what it meant to be in school based on our experience in the pandemic. And, ooh, that was a lot of  . . . a lot of big dreams, but they just don't match the reality of being a teacher or an administrator or school staff in general. We should be doing that. We have the skills to do that, but who, who among us has time. 

But I do know that schools will look different in 5 to 10 years. It won't look like it does right now because it can't, it's not sustainable. Every teacher's going to quit at some point. 

My hope would be that, as a society, we can shift our thinking a ton, by devoting a lot more resources towards paying school staff what they deserve. Especially ancillary staff, who make just a little bit over minimum wage as it is. And if that doesn't happen, I don't know that we'll be able to staff our buildings nationwide fully enough for us to run a school in a seat based model. I hope it doesn't come to that.

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Andrew: So that was Kara’s update, and, Val, in a sign of just how busy things are for teachers right now, I wasn’t even able to get an update from Zoe.  But, overall, what did you think?

Val: You know, Kara's reflection mirrors, what I hear, all the time at home. And if we think about just all that teachers have on their shoulders, and it's not that administrators and caregivers don't want to support them, right? I know administrators who are trying very hard. I know caregivers who care a lot about their kids' teachers. And yet, this collective trauma that we're all experiencing right now, and how do we move forward in that? Because we are moving forward. 

Andrew: We don’t have any choice, right?

Val: To Kara's point, right? We're moving forward in a way that feels like, why are we trying to fit our old status quo system into this new world? Right? Because we did not have the imagination of how to rethink this and this, this opportunity that I agree, we missed. We're trying to do it like it's always been done. 

Andrew: Like Kara said, settling back into the old grooves. That's what things want to do, and there was not the collective will to, to try to do something else. And I don't know, like, who, who comes up with the “something else?” How do we come up with something else that serves the needs of the most marginalized when we can't be in community? Yeah, I still don't know what to do with that.

Val: And I want to push back on that a little bit, because I don't doubt that people have offered up solutions that would positively impact the most marginalized. It's really, to me, just from my experience, always been about whose voices do we privilege. And so, for instance, just privileging the voices of, “I don't want my kids to wear masks to school.” Right? So how many other children are we putting in danger during a pandemic because we have decided to privilege those voices, versus the ones that would be more vulnerable to the pandemic and the disease? I just don't want us to present the idea that people aren't offering solutions to these very real challenges. 

Andrew: Right. I appreciate Zoe highlighting the expertise that so often goes overlooked in school communities. And there are plenty of teachers even right now, like you said, who are screaming about what needs to happen, about what needs to change and, and are just not being heard.

And it feels challenging. Like personally, I struggle because I'm not allowed to go in the building. I happen to have some friends who are teachers, and so I've heard from them about how, how challenging things are. But I, I wouldn't have otherwise had any idea just the level of crisis, you know? I mean, it's easy to feel like we were kind of through the crisis and the crisis is so prevalent. It's still ongoing, very much, in schools. We are in the midst of crisis. 

Val: Very much. A recent National Education Association survey of about 2,700 teachers, of their members, released in June, found that 32% of their respondents said the pandemic had led them to plan to leave the profession earlier than anticipated. 32%. So, think about the number of teachers that would be at your child's school.  Right? A third of the teacher's gone. And, there's no amount of, like teacher appreciation notes that are going to do the trick right now.

Andrew: Yeah, this idea I've heard of, like, it's secondhand trauma. The teachers are absorbing all of this trauma from the kids - Nevermind, you know, like we've all been traumatized in different ways from the past year and a half. And the teachers have to absorb it all while putting on a smiley face for all their kids, and trying to entertain them, and trying to keep them engaged, and trying to actually teach twice as fast, because we all know they were teaching at half-speed prior to the pandemic, but now they just teach a little faster. We can, we make up for lost time, right?

Val: And that will fix it.

Andrew: Yeah. 

Val: Can I say something else that kind of came up for me in this pandemic schooling that we're trying to fit? And it's connected to what you said about not hanging out in the schools. I think the intention is public safety, but this higher level of surveillance, and so I don't know how it is when you have to go up to the school, but you know, we have to press a little button, they ask you why you're here, someone meets you outside, you're not allowed in.  

And so we are very much separated from what is happening in the schools. And we have to count on our kids to tell us and teachers to find a way to get messages out.  Wave a white flag! Let us know you need help!

Andrew: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, it's not much, but like, just that act of walking through the building. Seeing the faces of the teachers in the building, glancing in classrooms. All of that stuff gives you some sense of what's going on. And I just have none of that now from the outside. And so it's, it's only because of relationships I have with teachers, who are like, this is the third school year that's been impacted by COVID, and it's the worst one for so many of them. 

Val: Yeah. And unlike that hopeful Val in March, 2020, I can't say that next year will look a whole lot different.

Andrew: Right. Well, thanks for listening. 

[laughter]

Val: We like to end on a high note.

Andrew: Yeah . . .

Val: What's a high note?  The young people. My young people are doing well. My young people are happy to be back. They are happy, even um - It's funny, they were nervous about going back at first, like, will they remember how to talk to people? Because we moved in the middle of it, so they didn’t have any friends going into, to the school.

So will they know how to talk to people? Will they make friends?

Andrew: I mean, I'm still, I'm still worried about that, Val. Will I know how to talk to people?

Val: Me too. 

Andrew: The first party I go to, it’s going to be like - 

Val: Yeah. I don't know if I'm going to know how to -Either I'm going to be completely out of control or I’m going to be, like balled, up in a corner. Because, for now, right now, I only want to wear either sequins or pajamas. 

[Laughter]

I just don't know, I just don't know.

Andrew: Those are the two options.

Val: I just don't know. And then they were excited to be back and to talk to other kids and then very quickly, probably too quickly for me, it became, “oh yeah, this is, this is school.”

Andrew: Right. They're super, they're super adaptable. 

Val: How about you?

Andrew: Yeah, I mean, them being in the building is huge and I'm so grateful for the work - I mean, like, I get glimpses of the amount of work that goes into trying to keep the kids safe. You know, organizing the, you know, bathrooms and the trips outside and how can we eat in, in outdoor spaces and making sure that everybody's wearing - you know, all of that work that has gone into keeping the kids in the building. Because it has made a huge difference for both of my kids just to be there, you know? We were, we were, we were not in a great spot by the end of virtual schooling. It was, it was hard for sure. 

Val: I certainly didn't know what to do with anybody the summer after virtual school. I'm like, I, I can't tell them to get on a computer. Like, they're gonna revolt. 

Andrew: One of the things I've been sort of thinking that the conversation with Zoe and Kara reminded me of is this idea of the ways that life changes against our will. That we all were in, in the beginning of, in different ways, like not, not in any way to the same degree. Like, obviously, from the very beginning, the pandemic was affecting everyone differently. But we all had the sense, particularly at the very beginning, that like this was going to get everybody. And so, all of our lives were, were upended. And there was this sense of like, “Okay, well, how do we serve everybody in the best way we can given the fact that everyone's life is so unpredictable?”

Because that is the case for so many people all the time, right? They, for so many people, the, like, sense of predictability and stability in life is, is a privilege. And, and I just wonder how do we, like, tap back into that empathy? 

Val: Well, I very much miss those early days. I am from a state that had lots of hurricanes and I've lived through lots of hurricanes, and it was always those couple of days right after the hurricane had passed, in the situation when everyone's safe, where we didn't have electricity. And it was just like, this calm, where we're all out for one another. Right? So neighbors made sure that everybody had what they needed or, you know, somebody has a grill or you can put, I have electricity, so you can put your stuff here.

Andrew: Charge your phone at my house, right.

Val: Yeah. Like we, we had that. And, I am sad that that moment left us so quickly with, with COVID. And so, when you talk about all the things that teachers have done to really capture students. You know, I firmly believe that most of them are still trying their very best, you know, to do that every single day. And I'm not quite sure if everyone recognizes it or values it for what that is. 

Something happened in that year where we all had to go virtual, where the general public got really frustrated with teachers. Like, really frustrated with teachers, or at least they projected that frustration onto teachers. Right? 

And so, it feels like a much larger than “We need teachers dedicating themselves to students” in the way that they did in the beginning. It feels larger than that to me. It feels like there's so many other pieces involved. 

Andrew: Yeah, I agree. I think teachers are still trying to do that in so many ways. And I think, some of what, like what Zoe said in the episode, like things had to get out of the way. The teachers want to do - Kara said this too, like, this is what teachers want to do. But it was the pandemic that got so many of the other things out of the way to let them actually do that. 

And so the people who kind of exert pressure on the education system - so often privileged parents, White parents, right? Who have a, sort of, an outsized voice in what happens in schools. If we're demanding that school look exactly the way it did before COVID, we're like pushing teachers to not have the space to, not to mention that schools are way understaffed. You know, schools don't have substitute teachers. You know, all of these other, like, challenges that we're kind of just piling all these things on top of teachers. 

I certainly don't think it's that teachers don't care enough. I think it's that, like, we have not allowed the system to create space for teachers to do this thing that they have expertise in - like, like Zoe was saying, like that's what their expertise is, is creating relationships, is building community, is finding out “What do my families need? What do my kids need? How does my community thrive?” They have this expertise and we're not tapping into that, and we're not even giving them the time to really tap into it. 

Val: Well, you know, I, I deeply believe in cross racial dialogue, but all of that sounds like you need to talk to your people.

[Laughter]

Andrew: That's fair. That's fair. Yup. Yeah. 

Val: I mean, stop laying on the pressure! Privileged and White people.

Andrew: I mean, yeah, it’s true.

What was your, what was your experience of the kind of shift in the pandemic from the post-hurricane “we're all in this together,” to the “we're no longer all in this together”? 

Val:  I think it surprised me how quickly it happened. Because the adoration for educators was coming from everywhere in the beginning. Oh, you know, thank you so much!

Andrew: I had no idea what you did all day! Right. Get my kids out of my house, please. 

Val: And I think everyone, I'm just speaking broadly, everyone's expectation about the pandemic ending relatively quickly. And when that didn't happen, I think just a lot of people just got frustrated. And so, to watch that unfold was, it was just pretty sad. You know? Um, it was pretty sad.

Andrew:  I vividly remember reading a Washington Post article, and I don't remember exactly. Like, maybe mid-April, that was the kind of the first article to really highlight the differences in impact of COVID. Who was actually most likely to die, who was likely to get sick. Where it all was. And, and the fact that that was Black and Brown communities, I remember saying to myself, “This is the end of solidarity.” This - when we are all this together and it's going to affect us all equally, then we are in this together. And as soon as it's mostly affecting Black and Brown folks, and I remember thinking like that, “Well, that's it. The solidarity is over.” 

Val: And to parallel that, there were many, many, many, many communities of color who were, like, “Actually school wasn't working for my child in the way that it was happening. Let's do this online thing. Let's do this learning collective thing. I don't want my kid to go back in school because, because we're Black and Brown. Our chances of dying of COVID are higher” and all of those were ignored. And so back to folks offering suggestions about how we can do this better. People talked about it, but whose voices are we privileging?

Andrew: This was the other thing I thought, I thought was great, was this idea of, like, I think Zoe mentioned, communicating your actual needs to the teachers. And, and then building this, like, collaborative process together to try to solve that. Rather than saying, you know, “I need the school to be starting class at 8:33 every morning, because that's what my kid needs.” If it's like a “Hey, here's what I need. Can you help me solve this problem?” You know, that, that puts a lot more kind of expertise in the hands of teachers to be able to say “Okay, let me do this, but let me also tell you why we can't do this for everyone, because check out these other kids that I got to serve.” And then there's like a lot more space for grace, I think in that. 

Val: Yeah. And I think being honest with ourselves, and what we can get done and accomplished is really important. And I think that's for caregivers and I think that's for educators. And I think educators right now are saying, “This is too much, this is not sustainable.” And I think parents are saying, “I need this structure to be this way because-” and, you know, maybe not finishing that thought, in a way that feels like they're hearing what teachers are saying.

Andrew: Yeah. I mean think we have to shine light on the ongoing crisis. Because I, yeah, if a third of teachers quit? The whole education system is gone and it's easy to point fingers and boil that down to administrators or central office or whatever. And don't think it's any of that. As a society, we need to say, look at what happened. As soon as crisis hit, who did we turn to? We said, we need kids to have iPads or computers. We need them to have internet access. We need them to keep eating? Who did we go to? We didn't go to social services. We didn't go to other parts of the city government. We went to schools. Schools are the place where all those things happen.

And until we start actually valuing them, like they are that kind of crucial backbone of support in our society, we are going to see teachers throw up their arms and say, “I can't do it anymore. It's not sustainable.” 

Val: Yeah. And, what we knew about school is over. And it's been over for a little while. I think there's lots of things that have happened in our school. You know, school shootings, COVID, our new reality of folks fighting against having conversations about race and racism in schools, as places of learning and critical engagement. Like, things are changing and I always wondered, you know, when people went through, like, major historical moments, if they knew what was happening.

Andrew: I know. This is one, for sure!

Val: Yeah. We know like, yeah, we can't say we slept through this one.

Andrew: I totally agree with that. I don't know exactly what it looks like to try to, you know, show up, to try to support, to try to lean in, to try to be a voice for public schools. But I do know that if we don't all come together and actually, like, declare the value of public education as something that is crucial to democracy. As something that is the bedrock of our country, and I think we've let that slip for far too long. But this is a moment where we're going to have to really confront that. And so, I don't know what it looks like to be a voice for that, but like I'm, I'm sure committed to, to being there and showing up for that. 

Val: I am as well.

Andrew: Listeners, if you are committed, come and let us know about it on the Patreon page, patreon.com/integratedschools. We'd be incredibly grateful for your support. And you can always hit us up on social media @integratedschools. Send us an email - [email protected] and Val, as always, I'm grateful to be in this with you as I try to know better and do better. 

Val: Until next time, my friend.

[Theme music]

Val: I think I saw someone tweet early on in the pandemic, “I wonder if, in the first few months of the 100 year war, people were like, oh, this'll be over in no time.”

And can you imagine?