I am a New York City public school Special Educator. I love the work that I do because it involves people, and people are my passion. My calling in life is to help other people develop into their best selves, and that currently involves working with middle schoolers in Brooklyn, New York. Earlier this year “normal” was upended. Teachers were asked to pivot – and this has not always been graceful. I think that during this time many are doing their best with what they have. I very much appreciate my administration because they trust me as a teacher to make the right choices for my students. They provide guidance and support.
I also recognize that I am fortunate to work at a school that had the foresight to quickly organize the giving out of resources our students would need; this included TI-84 graphing calculators, laptops, and relevant texts. I am part of an amazing team of dedicated and caring professionals. We may not always agree, but we are unified in our intent to help our students grow. Our current conversations revolve around student concerns, curriculums, as well as the challenges and changes brought about by COVID-19. When sharing notes with educators, the conversation will eventually turn to grading. COVID-19 has further revealed the high premium that has been placed on performance that is often asked to be proven through testing. I have been mulling over the question, "Are we grading for privilege and punishing poverty?" My question was influenced by a leadership webinar on equity led by Dr. Sheldon L. Eakins of The Leading Equity Center.
The tragedy of COVID-19 may impact us all, but the impact is highly uneven – much like our educational system. We are building our immunity and the cost is being charged to those who can least afford it. Inequity is real. There are systems, structures, and practices that ensure the advancement of some while discouraging growth among others. There exists a proliferation of policies that disenfranchise the people that look like me and my students. How do we as teachers safeguard and promote the values of a democracy that has made clear that education is a privilege as it is not guaranteed in the constitution? How do I as an educator maintain individual freedom and responsibility for my students when we are bound by a society that values those who have access to resources such as computers, laptops, cable, and internet subscriptions? We simultaneously value those with access while restricting, blocking, or eliminating opportunities to obtain the necessary resources.
Remote Learning is exposing the ways in which we are thinking about social justice. As a Special Educator, I believe that remote learning presents teachers, and schools across the United States, with an opportunity to do things differently, and work on the systems and processes that need to be changed in order to include all and recognize the value that is found in learning differences.
I keep hearing the refrain, “I can’t wait to get back to normal.” What “normal” is being referred to? Who is “normal” good for? The status quo usually benefits a privileged few. We must also consider, “Who is the voice for our vulnerable students,” a question posed in a meeting about mindsets in education. The government, administrators, teachers, parents, students, and stakeholders in our educational system must consider, “Where is the equity for those with extenuating circumstances?” I recently learned about a student who is working during the day to help out his family, and trying to do work at night! He’s in the 8th grade! This is an impossible situation, which reminds me of what a principal in another meeting I was able to attend said, “We cannot underestimate the magnitude of the impact.” We are underestimating the magnitude of the impact of closed buildings and closed off resources. Schools are not just edifices or institutions made of brick and mortar. They are living and active because of the people of which they are composed – students. We must not cease to recognize their humanity because we refuse to take off our life lenses and look through remote learning via their experiences. We need to look at remote learning through the personal realities of our students. These realities include: living at or below the poverty line, lack of access to the internet or a device, living in temporary housing or shelters, lost income, parents who are essential workers, and the lasting impact of race and racism.
Leadership is thinking about the metrics we use to measure accountability or to be accountable. We need to put our students faces on the debates raging around us right now so that we can act responsively and responsibly. Leadership is also considering what our teachers need. As an educator, I am constantly rethinking what it means to teach and how to do it well. Though I am no longer constricted by a bell, there are limitations that must be considered – my own, that of my students, and those of the systems and structures in which we work. The dynamics are different; therefore, I too, must shift. Leadership during this time is calling us to modify our ways by examining our assumptions and expectations, and providing students a great measure of belonging.
Ms. St. Jean
Native New Yorker teaching and living the middle school life, using this site to keep it 100. My students are the embodiment of joy.