Hopes that the 2021-22 year would mark a return to some sort of pre-pandemic normalcy have been dashed by the rise of the delta variant of the novel coronavirus, with covid-19 cases skyrocketing in some places and mask mandates either being imposed or contentiously debated.
In this post, veteran teacher Larry Ferlazzo lists seven concerns he has about the new school year — fears he says are shared by many of his colleagues.
By Larry Ferlazzo
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past 18 months worrying about our schools, our students and our families.
It brings me no joy whatsoever to report that, based on media reports, my conversations with teachers all around the country, and my own local experiences, that what has actually happened “on the ground” demonstrated that many of my fears were justified.
I have more worries entering this new school year, and hope that next year I’ll be able to say, instead, that they were overblown.
Here they are:
- I worry about how the mental health of many students is going to hold up during a third school year affected by the pandemic, especially in light of the impacts from the delta variant. I worry that many districts have not hired enough counselors or prepared peer support programs to respond to this crisis. And I worry that, once again, that will mean that we teachers will have to pick up the slack — as we have for the past 18 months — on top of everything else we have to do.
- I worry about the physical and economic health of our students and our families. We could be in for a long year, with no vaccine yet available for younger children, the increased transmission risk of the delta variant, and vaccine hesitancy among so many. And, with the ending of the federal eviction moratorium, I worry about a huge uptick in the number of homeless families.
- I worry that many districts have not adequately planned a high-quality remote learning option for students who are not able, or not comfortable, returning to the physical classroom this fall. This inaction is likely to lead to one of three results — all bad: students who participate in poorly designed virtual learning options won’t learn much; regular public schools lose students to better-organized charters; or we teachers — and our students — get stuck in another nightmarish scenario of having to do concurrent teaching (teaching in-person and on Zoom simultaneously).
- I worry that many district leaders continue to believe that they are the “smartest people in the room” and will make unwise choices in using the additional funds that are being provided to schools. One key reason this could happen is because some of them refuse to seriously engage with teachers and our unions (and with students and families) about the best ways to use those funds to benefit students and their families. I worry that they will continue to ignore the principle of subsidiarity — that the people closest to the problem tend to have the best ideas about how to solve them. As a result, it could become more difficult in the future to gain public support for essential new funding for our schools.
- I worry about how to effectively teach in a classroom environment where all students have devices (laptops or tablets). We’re all “one-to-one schools” now, but a lot of us have never taught in that kind of a physical classroom environment. Many districts, as they did last year going into remote teaching, are likely to leave it to teachers to figure it out on their own with little or no support.
- I worry that in the face of conservative attacks on educators teaching about systemic racism, combined with the pandemic challenges, many teachers — particularly those of us who are White — will find it convenient to continue to duck the issue in our classrooms.
- I worry that my colleagues and I won’t see the 5 percent to 8 percent of our students who were on our class rosters last year, but who we never heard from. Districts might continue doing well-intentioned but relatively ineffective centralized outreach efforts to those “disappeared” instead of having schools hire local residents with community relationships to track them down.
These worries — if realized — don’t bode well for a wonderful year.