Shirley Jones Luke is an English teacher in Boston Public Schools. After 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the new school year in Boston starting soon, she gave us her insight into the current education landscape.
As I prepare to return to the classroom in September, it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a serious blow to education. The impact is strongest in communities of color. Many Black and Brown students have spent over a year in remote learning. We teachers had to learn new ways of reaching and teaching students. From interactive games to online whiteboards, students were provided with different ways to access lessons and share their answers. But despite using breakout rooms and concurrent teaching methods, many students still struggled online.
I found that teaching online over the last year had twice as many demands as teaching in a classroom. I had to be an instructor and an entertainer. I provided my students with the information they needed to grow academically while infusing colorful visuals and videos to keep them online. There were many instances when a student had a younger sibling in their lap as they tuned in for my class. Sometimes students messaged me that they will be right back so they can help care for an elderly grandparent. Students couldn’t focus on their learning because at home, they need to assist with household chores and babysitting duties. This often leads to them missing instruction and falling behind on their assignments.
As students return to school in September, the burden to “close the gaps” will fall on the teachers, but teachers are suffering, too. We aren’t given enough time to focus on self-care. We’re exhausted and it impacts our instruction. The struggle will be real, and the stress will be high. To help us, teachers need leaders to provide relevant professional development sessions to help us navigate the new normal. Our toolkits need to be expanded. We require quality strategies to help us plan and implement lessons. Our students deserve a curriculum that reflects who they are and teachers who will provide them with what they need to succeed.
This year, African American and Latino educators will also need to rise up and demand better for their students. As an African American educator, I have witnessed too many Black and Brown students struggle through material because they were reading two or three grade levels below the curriculum. I have been teaching for over fifteen years and I have seen academic outcomes for students of color declining in reading and writing. This was true long before the virus invaded our shores, and it is critical that we not simply go back to the status quo as we return to school this year.
My request as we return to school is to have patience and work together to stabilize our education system. Our leaders need to support educators and provide them with the tools they need to educate our students. We know our classrooms and students better than anyone, and we must be listened to if we are going to begin to adequately address the crisis that COVID-19 has placed us in. Together, we can make this a better year than last year was.