Longtime educator Larry Ferlazzo has been a frequent writer on this blog for a decade — and now he is back with his list of the things that most concern him about schooling going into 2021.

Ferlazzo teaches English and social studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento. He has written or edited 12 books about education, writes a teacher advice blog for Education Week and has a popular resource-sharing blog.

His many pieces on this blog include one about how teachers can help students motivate themselves, and a favorite of mine, titled, “NEWS BREAK (not breaking news): Teacher asks students to grade him. One wrote: ‘I give Mr. Ferlazzo an A at being annoying.’ ”

In July, he wrote a post about the eight things that were most worrying him about the start of the 2020-21 school year during the global coronavirus pandemic. They included concerns about how he would quickly and effectively build relationships with students remotely, the mental health of his students, and concerns about the difficulty of remote learning but the lack of understanding about those difficulties by administrators and others.

This new piece about what most concerns him heading into a new calendar year appeared on one of his blogs, and he gave me permission to publish it.

Ferlazzo also recently made his annual list of what he considered the worst and best education news of the year, which you can read here.

By Larry Ferlazzo

In July, I wrote a column for The Answer Sheet headlined, “Teacher: Eight concerns about school this fall that are robbing me of sleep.”

And, boy, was I spot-on with those concerns as the fall semester unfolded.

I was able to get a decent handle on the ones I listed that were within my control, such as what to cover in the curriculum and what to jettison.

And I have developed a substantial amount of cynicism about others beyond my control, particularly those related to people who have never done remote teaching but still tell teachers how to do it.

I also came to recognize — with great sadness — that there is only so much I can do about things I’d desperately like to help, including the mental health of my students.

Now, as we enter a new year and a new semester, I have eight new concerns. They may not be keeping me up at night like the ones on the previous list did (at least now there is some familiarity with what we’re facing), but they certainly are interfering with my having a very restful winter break.

Here they are:

  1. I worry about maintaining student engagement and attendance. In December, I made some substantial changes that appear to have “stemmed the bleeding.” The question will be whether I can sustain those changes, which require more planning before classes, more energy during classes, and more follow-up after they’ve ended.
  2. I worry about the 10 percent of my students who have never attended a class or done any school work. I know I’m not the only teacher with this percentage of “disappeared” students, and I know that despite extraordinary efforts by our school’s administration and staff, we don’t have the resources to find them and provide the support they need to reconnect.
  3. I worry about the mental health of students who are attending classes, despite having to work near full-time hours to help support their families during the recession and/or despite having to tutor their younger siblings or cousins. I fear that the economic crisis facing their families will continue unabated.
  4. I worry about the mental and physical health of many of my immediate colleagues, who are dealing with the same teaching challenges that I have, but who have many more personal and family responsibilities than I do.
  5. I worry about the physical and mental health challenges facing my brother and sister teachers in other schools and districts, who are either dealing with similar remote teaching issues or the challenges of hybrid teaching, particularly the nightmarish version of offering simultaneous instruction to some students who are physically present and some who are online.
  6. I worry about many districts, like my own, in high-infection areas that continue to put money and resources into reopening plans that are unlikely to ever be implemented this school year. Instead, I wish they would put at least a portion of that money into supporting teachers who want to do more effective distance learning, offering more remote learning classes to vulnerable student populations such as English language learners, and providing schools with the support they need to reach the “disappeared” before we lose them forever.
  7. Although I would love to return to face-to-face instruction by President-elect Joe Biden’s goal of May, I worry that some districts may cut safety corners to try to make that happen and inaccurately view teacher vaccinations as the “cure-all” for all coronavirus concerns.
  8. And I worry that if some schools do open safely for the last month of school year, some technocratic “data-driven” officials may make the ridiculous decision to use some of that time for standardized testing instead of for connecting, relationship-building and reflection.

What are you worrying about going into the new year?