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Here’s What Schools Need To Do in the Years To Come

A reckoning is upon us

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

I think a reckoning is upon us. The only question I have for school leaders, politicians and, frankly, parents is: Do you want to face it?

As a primary school teacher working the front lines during this pandemic — and now home sick with the Omicron virus — I can vouch for both the pitfalls and the necessity of school. I don’t mean formal education per se, I mean a building in which students learn alongside their peers. With teachers in the front, sides, middle and back of the room. Wherever they are needed.

But let’s face facts. Schools have been and always will be breeding grounds for infections. While no research currently points to our nation’s schools as significant spreaders of COVID-19, nobody wants to wear masks in class for the rest of eternity. Something has to give.

That something has to be time spent in school.

Learning by the clock is an anachronism of an earlier industrial time, when many folks worked assembly line jobs and punched a timeclock every day.

There is no need, given the fact that American children already average more time in class currently than most other children in developed countries, to keep every child in school for the same amount of time each day. Besides, those extra hours of schooling each year haven’t budged the needle on test performance.

Ask most teachers and I think they’ll agree. There are many students who could come in for a shorter amount of time each day, say three hours, and pick up key lessons taught in flexible groupings in math, ELA, writing, science or history. They could then return home, to a library, or some other community space and complete homework. After, there’d be time for academic clubs geared toward their particular interests and strengths, sports, physical education, art and music classes.

A mixture of in-person, whole group, small group, and on-line learning is in our nation’s future. It’s only a matter of when, not if.

Perhaps you’re wondering, “What about the other students, the ones who need the most help? What are we to do with them?”

The “others” are the ones I teach all day as a special educator. I do not relegate them to a room down the hall, out of sight and out of mind. Instead, I hope for the day of the smallest class sizes possible and the most staff available to help close their educational gaps and provide them what they need. Of course, all special classes like art and music would be available to them. Theirs would be a school day much like it is now, only with more flexibility of groupings, more time and space for lessons tailored to their interests, and more opportunities for the reteaching they urgently need.

I can already hear the criticisms. Parents need to work. Schools need to watch their kids during their day. This is not to downplay the very real mental health needs of today’s parents. Schools could certainly still keep kids and not bus them home automatically after a shorter day of classes. But the school environment needn’t be such a rigid hive-like structure where everyone is pent up in classrooms going through the same routine day in and day out.

And it needn’t be filled to the brim 6.5 hours per day either.

The point of reckoning is here, and what we do with it now will determine the future of our schools for years to come. Can we stop the momentum of this anachronistic runaway juggernaut? Will we be teaching kids the same way we taught their grandparents?

Or will we change course?

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Educate magnifies the voices of changemakers in education. We empower educators to share their stories, ideas, insights, and inspiration. Educate is dedicated to the fusion of research + education policy and practice.

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Dave Smith

Dave Smith

Teacher, friend, insatiable learner, irrepressible author. Writes for the curious. Life’s a tapestry of choices, each thread a story all its own.

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