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Challenge: Back to School

The Four Letter Word We Need for Back to School in 2020

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With.

For.

It's amazing how seven letters in two different combinations can convey meanings that are worlds apart. These two words can have a massive impact in our mindset in the current situation, especially when it comes to education.

For example, fill in the blank in this sentence with each word and see how it changes:

My child's teacher works ____________ me to educate and prepare him/her for the future.

Wow, right?

To me, the difference between these two little words is a not- insignificant factor in the current debates about the 2020-21 school year. When things started to go sideways back in March teachers were trying to do their best while everything was changing daily. The vast majority of educators are still doing their best to prepare to deliver meaningful, impactful lessons by whatever means are available.

Summer work is not foreign to teachers; if you want to see someone laugh hysterically until tears stream down their face, tell a teacher it must be so nice to lay around and not do any work all summer. This year, most educators would most likely tell you they've worked harder and spent more time on school preparations than they have in any other summer of their professional lives.

If you're going to use a four letter word when thinking about the start of the school year, let it be with.

Teachers are still lacking in all of the information and resources needed as the start of school in the US looms closer every day. School districts are getting conflicting guidance and being constantly threatened with penalties when they can't achieve the impossible (there are only so many ways to arrange a classroom, and no one can magically poof thousands of extra square feet into existence). They just want every student in their charge to be successful and to do their jobs well.

They want everyone to be safe.

Teachers need to stay healthy, they need to feel safe to do their jobs effectively, and they need to feel like their families are as safe as possible in this bizarre and scary time.

Just like all of us.

A lot of the debates I see raging on Facebook parenting boards are a symptom of how our society has been viewing children and education for quite some time. I have a lot of thoughts about how the horrendous cost of childcare, and insanely insufficient parental leave results in some parents viewing school as a service that is bought and paid for. I also have very definite opinions on the fact that our society has become one where parents are dependent on school (especially elementary) to account for a significant portion, if not all, of their childcare due to lack of support. I'm not going to shout from that soapbox now, as I feel there's so much to be said that can/has/will be said by others with my much more expertise on the topic.

All parents are going to have to make really difficult choices in the coming weeks. Information will be considered, lists will be made, options will be weighed again- often in the middle of a sleepless night. We continue to find ourselves in the land of trying to settle on the best worst choice

It is easier if we're all in it together.

Will all of our decisions look the same?

Nope.

But. If we can just keep that one little word- with- in front of us as we go into the coming weeks, it might make the impossible a bit easier. Approaching this as partners, rather than expecting someone to do something for us will get us further.

Our schools and teachers are ready to work with us to figure out how we're going to make this all happen. Even when governments aren't working with them on basics such as funding to put new regulations in place. Seriously, think for a second about what happens when you tell your kid to take one pump of hand sanitizer. Now multiply it 20, then multiply that by 5 times a day. Even the economy size bottles aren't going to last long, and it's not cheap. That's before factoring in bigger ticket items like plexiglass, extra personnel, transportation concerns,... the list just keeps going.

Let's prepare to work with all school personnel to make whatever variation of school is going to start in the coming weeks work. It is going to be more stress in a time where stress has felt unrelenting.

Will it always be pretty? No. Are there going to be glitches and days where everyone wants to just wave the white flag? Almost certainly. Is the school year going to look like anyone's first choice for the ideal way to educate children? Bahahahaha- of course not! It's 2020, first choice hasn't been part of our vocabulary for months now, silly rabbit.

If we work with our teachers, we will still get maintain our first priority- educating our children and preparing them for the future. We can minimize the impact of this insane time in their school career by approaching it as a partnership. By working with our schools and not expecting them to work for us, we stand a better chance of making this work the best way we can.

With. Just focus on with- four letters make all the difference in the mindset we approach this with.

If you need to scream some other four letter words in the closet, into your pillow, alone in the car while dealing with this, that's okay. I'll be there with you, a lot of educators will too- In fact, they could probably teach us some amazing new ones.

And please, wear a mask.

*A version of this post also appeared on the authors blog.

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