Public School Teachers
Teacher? Babysitter? Social Director? Therapist?
For years, those claiming that they want to reform education have savagely attacked the teaching profession. The pandemic proved them wrong.
- Aannestad Andelin & Corn LLP
We live in a society that has deprioritized the needs of children. The days of a parent being able to stay home to raise their offspring are long gone and an appropriate work-life balance is out of reach for most Americans. Decades of trickle-down economics have frayed the social safety net leaving too many children hungry and homeless. Even for those with access to good health insurance, mental health services are difficult to obtain. Our neighborhood social structures have disintegrated leaving today’s children without the villages that helped raise previous generations.
Our public schools have done their best to pick up the slack by providing food for hungry children, after-school care for students whose parents are working, and access to technology for those who desperately need 21st-century job skills to have a shot at the American Dream. Spearheading these efforts have been public school teachers, many of whom reach into their own pockets to pay for school supplies for their students. To pay for projects not covered by diminishing funding for public education, others become beggars, soliciting donations on programs like DonorsChoose.
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of public school campuses, parents from all ranges of the economic spectrum felt the effects. Those from socio-economically disadvantaged areas were hit particularly hard. While Los Angeles quickly instituted a Grab and Go meal program to keep families fed, other school districts were not as responsive and food insecurity increased. Low-wage workers were less likely to have the option of working from home and were left scrambling for child care. The imbalance of access to the internet was highlighted as students scrambled to log in to Zoom school.
The anguish of parents seeing their children struggling through the challenges of the pandemic is apparent in the lawsuit filed last week against the LAUSD. One describes trying to help her son “with schoolwork when she gets home from work, but [he] is uncooperative and resists her efforts.” Another says that her son “plays with his computer and pretends he can’t hear the teacher or other students.” A mother says that she “tried everything to re-engage her daughter in school”, but her child “simply does not care.” One of the seven children described in the suit “doesn’t even bother to wake up in time” and his “assignments are often missed or filed late.”
It would be wrong to blame any of these failures on the parents. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned all of our lives upside down and they are surely doing their best to provide for the needs of their children. Unfortunately, these parents have looked past the efforts the LAUSD has made when finding themselves in uncharted territory and have sued the district. To do so they have allied themselves with the same forces that have been trying to dismantle the public education system for years.
Groups like Nick Melvoin’s Speak Up have pushed for a system that forces public schools to compete for scarce education dollars with private entities that lack any kind of reasonable oversight. Melvoin himself opposed the teachers’ union’s efforts to improve conditions for students including reducing class size and ensuring that every school had a full-time nurse assigned to its campus. He is part of a movement of self-described education “reformers” who have sought to judge teachers by the results of standardized tests and to eliminate their due process rights. Professional classroom educators were seen as unnecessary in a transformed learning environment where students could be taught over an iPad.
Ironically, these same groups are the ones who pushed for an immediate reopening of school campuses no matter the cost to teachers, students, and families. As the technology that they revered failed to engage students, teachers were suddenly considered essential. It turns out that the skills of a good teacher cannot be replicated by a machine.
The problems faced by the seven students whose parents are suing the LAUSD are tragic, but they were not caused by the school district; they are a result of a pandemic made worse by a lack of leadership at the national level. The parents acknowledge this in their filing when one says that her “son used to play football and basketball, but that all stopped with school closures, and it has affected his mood tremendously”. Another admits that “during the summer of 2020, normal socialization and enrichment opportunities were limited: trips, camps, and summer sports were canceled, and it was difficult to see friends.”
The COVID-19 pandemic will eventually subside and school campuses will finally reopen. The students who return will not be the same as their lives have been forever altered by the experience of the shutdown. I have full confidence that teachers will step up to the challenge of helping their students just as they have in the past. Hopefully, this time they will have the support of groups like Speak Up who have now seen the benefits that public school teachers provide.
Carl Petersen is a parent, an advocate for students with special education needs, an elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council, a member of the LAUSD’s CAC, and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD’s District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, the Network for Public Education (NPE) Action endorsed him, and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a “strong supporter of public schools.” For links to his blogs, please visit www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.