Written by LaMar Timmons-Long and Julia Torres

Recently, we asked our students what some of their greatest fears and greatest hopes. At first, we felt that it might be the wrong time or too invasive, but we also feel like the world needs to know how they feel. In so much of the online learning we do in response to “disaster distance learning”, we seldom read actual words from our students telling us what they need. In this post, my friend and I share the same goal. While we are separated by time zones and geography, our goal is the same — to amplify the voices of our young people in the hopes that people will listen. Therefore, it is time to hear the voices of this generation and reflect on our own experiences as we work to provide students with an equitable education. Below you will find a list of our students’ hopes and fears throughout this time of online learning.

Hopes:

  • “I hope that the work isn’t stressful”
  • “No online learning”
  • “Less pressure”
  • “That it stays simple and that i can find the time to complete all of my assignments.”
  • “I hope i can stay on top of all my work and turn everything in on time”
  • “I can do things at my own pace and get individualized help.”
  • “Having my own schedule and fix my time management.”
  • “My hopes would be that students and teachers would be able to adjust to the new learning layouts meanwhile still managing their communication skills.”
  • “I hoped that I’d still be interested in learning new material because even though they send us videos to educate us, it’s still not the same vibe as having it presented from your actual teacher.”
  • “My would be that students and teachers would still be able to keep in contact despite what’s going on and that we can learn to adapt to this new way of learning in a positive way when it comes to learning online. I think communication is key especially in a time right now, so just to know that everyone is supporting each other in different ways to keep as much of a school environment going without actually being in school is a satisfying thing.”

Fears:

  • “My fear for more online learning is the fact i’m not learning anymore im just trying my best to get my work done that way my grade will not drop.”
  • “I hope that they don’t give us lots of work”
  • “Online learning”
  • “That it will be online”
  • “That we will have to do projects that will be confusing.”
  • “That i fail and don’t get all the support i need for my junior year”
  • “Teachers were going to overload us with work and I would lose the motivation to complete the work due to home environment and missing some of my classmates and teachers”
  • “I would lose connectivity with my favorite teachers”
  • “As students learning from home environments would be seen as challenging and would risk the lack of learning being done. I also fear that the lack of motivation and absence of in-person working skills would further affect students’ learning abilities for the worse, as well as their quick thinking abilities when given a broader time management”
  • “I feared that I’ll be unmotivated and that I’d have many due dates the overlap and end up getting overwhelmed”
  • “My fears for remote learning is that due to the lack of classroom engagement students will start to fall behind on their school work. I also fear that students won’t care much about their work now because they aren’t motivated.”

I am LaMar Timmons-Long, a Black Queer male educator born and raised in New York City. Growing up in New York City is an eclectic experience within itself; living, learning, and embodying this city has had a lasting impression on my life and now teaching in New York City has shaped how I see the world and work with my students. When I look at my high school students, I smile with joy because I see myself. Our commonalities are strong: growing up in urban neighbors (Brownsville, Bed-Stuy, Bushwick, The Heights, Dyckman, Parkchester, The South Bronx), traveling to Manhattan for school and dealing with NYC’s Metropolitan Transit Authority and its craziness (that’s a story all by itself), and enjoying all NYC has to offer in and outside of school. However, my students are so much better than I was in high school.

In high school I was a social butterfly, cool with everybody, and actively participated in student clubs and organizations. However, academic classes were the farthest thing from my mind. All I cared about was my fly gear (Jordan’s, air max 95’s, north face jackets, etc), the latest music on the radio and the dances that went along with them, and being the best young version of Mary J Blige with a twist of the Notorious B.I.G. I could be. In reality, I was the “okay” student because I was bored. I was respectful, did my work but I did not apply myself to my academics. I saw nothing of myself in myself and my experiences in classes. I loved school; it was the escape I needed from my horrible homelife; yet, I did not know how to be a “studious” student until I had to fight my way into honors English. You read that correctly — I had to fight my way for a seat in the honors English class because I wanted more of a challenge. Many of my teachers did not believe I could do it and I was questioned by many of them, “Are you sure, LaMar? Do you really want to do this?”, I gave my teachers a run for their money in having to prove myself to them. I did not like feeling marginalized, considered less than, and not given an equal opportunity to better myself as a person and an academic. Unfortunately, they were used to the “okay” student and they did not want to give me a chance until that one teacher said “let him in.” In my own work as an educator, I have become that one teacher, the teacher that will advocate for students, especially those deemed as the “underdog” or a student that was like me, the “okay” student who desires to participate in classes that will challenge them and take them to higher heights as a human being. Many of my classmates, who were similar to me, did not get this opportunity. This is my story and it is not much different than many of the BIPOC in today’s classrooms. Therefore, teachers, I ask you, how and when will you fight your kids when the system wants to keep them down?

I am Julia E. Torres a Black female multi-lingual and multi-ethnic ELA educator and librarian living and teaching in Denver, Colorado. My secondary school experience wasn’t so different from my students. I learned to “do school” and as fate and circumstance would have it, I turned out to be pretty good at most of it, good enough that my life has lead me to where I am now. But I still suffered from what some have called “Pretty Brown-Girl Syndrome”, continuously reminded that the consequences of passing classes and the stakes of not getting an education in this society, were much higher for me. Along those lines, most of us became teachers because we knew how to do school and because we wanted to create something better and different for students who share our experience of being simultaneously marginalized, othered, and disenfranchised by those who would claim to be in our corner. But, I know I can’t be alone in asking myself, would we have thrived in these current conditions? I know that for so many of our students today, circumstances in which they have been asked to learn and be ready for assessment on new information developed overnight. School and life circumstances changed so fast many students left and never returned. Many did not make it to graduation leaving school leaders and teachers alike asking themselves, “What do we do when the system we have set up does not work?”

This is the very same question students who have dropped out of college during Freshman and Sophomore year have been asking for the longest time. These students have shown us that sometimes, whether you learn to “do school” or not, the level of school that you learned is not commensurate to the skills and content taught in other places. Sometimes, whether you do all your “work” or not, your diploma doesn’t represent the same kinds of knowledge that it does in other places.

What we are facing are unprecedented times. We are living with uncertainty, cruelty, brutality, inequality, and so many other factors that seem to be beyond our control. We are also living in times when we have a choice to give our students better than what we had because they deserve a quality education and experience. We have the choice every day to be the person who will stand up and fight for our students, raise the hand of dissent and call for those in leadership to do more and to do better — or unapologetically hold them accountable when they do not. When we read that our students fears: not getting support, losing connection with teachers, struggling with motivation and home environments, feeling overwhelmed, and feeling confused and afraid of online learning because it has not been designed for their success, we know that we must act.

It is our responsibility to respond — to start a dialogue, to check in with students and families, to ask for their feedback and listen to what they say. We must show up. This is our call to action for you.

This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE and HERE to view yesterday’s blog post by Tiana Silvas and Nekia Wise (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle).

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