Flipping the Line: If you think you can replace teachers with Costco, you need an education yourself
Moms show some serious pandemic-era appreciation for teachers
The Line welcomes angry rebuttals and responses to our work. The best will be featured in our ongoing series, Flipping the Line. We received lots of feedback to Calgary stay-at-home mom Laura Mitchell’s piece Dear Teachers, you are fighting for your own redundancy.
By: Tamara Schroeder
It takes a lot to make me raise my eyebrow in a year where headlines about murder hornets and coast-to-coast protests fight for my attention amidst the ongoing story of a global health crisis, and yet I’ll give credit where it’s due. Last week, when a friend posted a link to Laura Mitchell’s opinion piece “Dear Teachers, you are fighting for your own redundancy,” claiming teachers had “declared their own in-class expertise non-essential,” it surprised me, and not in the good, Taylor-Swift-unexpectedly-released-a-pandemic-soundtrack kind of way.
On March 15, when Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, made the call to close schools, I fully understood and supported the decision. I had been debating if I should send my kids that week, as cases were continuing to rise and the impact of the virus on children was — and still is — unclear.
By day four of our new online learning reality, I started to seriously question the sincerity of the various teachers that have claimed for years that my kids are a delight to teach.
What I quickly realized was that this wasn’t homeschooling, it was crisis learning. Teachers had one week to figure out how to transition their hands-on, in-person classroom online, and to make it as simple to navigate as possible while condensing a fully planned curriculum into roughly five hours of work per week. And let's not forget that they had to do this while setting aside their own pandemic-related anxiety and grief, confronted with quiet classrooms full of the empty desks of students they had just spent six months forging connections with.
This was never about delivering a world-class experience that would take months, maybe years, of preparation in the best of circumstances — it was about survival for all of us, educators included.
Here’s my take, publicly paid teachers: thank you for your ongoing work of being surrogates and caring for our children in our absence, acting as educators, cheerleaders, mental-health counsellors, social workers and whatever else is demanded of you at any given time.
Full disclosure: I’m a straight white woman, and was mostly a stay-at-home mom before my kids started school full-time, an option afforded to me by a partner, whose job has allowed us flexibility around when and how I work. Two days after schools closed, I was laid off from my part-time job and transitioned into the role of reluctant educator without the fear of losing my career or wondering how we would survive. It required some adjustments, but it was feasible. And if we decide our kids are safer at home this fall, we’ll be able to make that work as well.
I have options. I know not everyone does. One in five children in Alberta live in poverty. This disproportionately affects single-parent families, as well as Indigenous, racialized and LGBTQ communities. The public-school system allows students in these communities access to an education while their parent(s) work. Are they less industrious because they prioritize putting food on the table over filling a junk drawer with forgotten-about-learning tools?
It's a privilege to be able to remove yourself from the politics of reopening and discussions about who will fund extra resources while assuming that everyone can even afford a Costco membership. Perhaps what Mitchell characterized as teachers creating “drama” actually comes from a place of advocacy by educators who look beyond their own needs, understanding that a classroom experience can’t be built from nothing and would just like to provide their students the best-possible learning experience.
Comparing the “entirety of the Alberta curriculum” with “shit I bought at Costco” takes a very narrow view of education and reduces it to generic $10 workbooks while completely ignoring the broader importance of how and why successful pedagogies encourage students to become well-rounded, thoughtful citizens.
If anyone needs a system that has the ability to teach critical-thinking skills, maybe it’s the children of those who have determined that their personal experience with three months of unplanned, emergency teaching during a global crisis is reflective of a teacher’s value and use that blip in a child’s education to brand an entire group of professionals as redundant.
The success of managing their children’s learning for a few months with odds and ends found around the house may have inspired some parents to park themselves at a rustic table (with what I hope are some strong brownies) for the long haul, but they can make that choice without shitting all over the brilliant, committed educators who fill that role for those that can’t — or let’s be honest, don’t want to.
It is not a fair comparison to managing a classroom full of children with diverse needs and learning styles, responding to all of their needs remotely, making the work engaging and meeting with them and their parents online to provide support. I hope those teachers who just “sat at home” were also given a freshly baked cookie.
I'm sure there are teachers with kids of their own or maybe a pre-existing condition or even just a general, healthy appreciation of life who are terrified of all that could possibly go wrong when schools reopen. Yet most will likely still show up whether it’s by need or by choice. They’ll also do it with smiles on their faces, knowing that even if they’re putting their own health at risk to do what society has asked of them, at least they’ll have one less ungrateful parent to deal with.
Are you going to buy your kids normal social development at a big-box store, too?
By: Sabrina Macpherson
Late last week, Ontario’s provincial government announced their plan for the return to school in September. The plan seemed an admission from health officials that there are no perfect solutions, and likely not any good ones either — only our best efforts at avoiding the worst in physical and psychological health outcomes for kids. No one was truly satisfied.
After the announcement I chatted with other moms who have kids around my son’s age, and our reactions were more emotional than political. We all agree it’ll be good for the kids to be back with their friends, to play with peers who have the same level of energy. We admitted that it’ll be nice to focus on work without having to simultaneously entertain and homeschool a five-year-old.
We also agree that the plan is probably not sustainable. It’s going to be impossible to keep the kids distanced at the elementary level, and the usual classroom-as-petri-dish will show up right on time as it does every cold season. And so, we’ll be watching like hawks: looking at the case numbers, looking for signs that it’s going to go sideways, and willing to pull our kids back home in a heartbeat.
Some of us are the primary breadwinner for our families, and like a lot of Canadians none of our houses could function with only a single income. We don't just want to work, we need to work.
It’s a privilege to be able to work from home in all this mess, as most of my friend group has done. As Laura Mitchell pointed out in her recent piece, essential workers didn't have this option. In response to this, some families made the choice that one parent would stop working, so that their sole focus would be caring for and educating their children.
Full credit to women and men who are stay-at-home parents. It's work, and I believe that it should be paid work. It provides genuine value to society. But my socialist wishlist notwithstanding, at present it's not paid work, and choosing to be a single-income family is not an option for many.
But even if most could, I disagree with Mitchell’s assessment that, based on our experience during the pandemic, we can or should do without universal public education. The societal value of public education is far greater than Mitchell suggests when she blithely says it’s good for “days when we want the kids out of our hair and need a babysitter.”
Teachers are trained professionals who have specialized in educational theory and practice. In veteran teachers especially, like those my son was lucky enough to have this year, the experience shows. They were as shocked as anyone but the pandemic, but still rallied to provide the resources parents would need to help their kids. Many gave multiple options, knowing how both parents’ days and children’s attention spans would be in flux, and they supported us with open communication.
Mitchell says that teachers “sat at home,” contrasting them with essential workers who were out at work and at risk. Nonsense — they worked from home, all while managing their own kids’ homeschooling and worrying about their own families. Teachers weren’t the exception, they, along with millions of us, were the new norm. Not all teachers are created equal, it’s true, but to claim that they merely sat at home grossly misrepresents what most teachers did with the wretched cards they were dealt this spring.
Further, school gives children opportunities for social development that they simply cannot get at home. Children need to learn to socialize with their peers, to navigate institutions both formal and casual, to interact with adults who are not their parents, and to balance their growing sense of self with that of their community. For many kids, school is the first non-family community to which they belong. It’s also, critically, where they get exposure to ideas that are different from the ones they hear at home, and grapple with the conflict of learning something that contradicts what you’ve always been told.
Finally, and most importantly, there’s a reason why universal education is considered a fundamental human right: education is the great equalizer. There are economic and social disparities in every community, and a common foundational education does a lot to make up for that. Not all parents can afford to spend money on educational resources at home; not all parents are capable of being the educator that their child needs.
More darkly, not all parents are good to their children. As the pandemic spread across the world, there was a global trend that paralleled the rise of stay-at-home orders: the severe rise of domestic violence and abuse being reported. School is a haven for many abused kids, and it can be the place where a caring adult gets them the resources and the help they need.
In the end, what was left unsaid in the announcement from the Ontario government is that this fall and winter are going to be rough. We’ll almost certainly see another wave of COVID infections, and when that happens right in the middle of the usual cold and flu season, it’s really going to hurt. The message for now is “kids will go back in September, and they’ll be safe;” the as-yet unadmitted reality is that it’s unlikely we’ll still consider them safe in late October. I genuinely don’t blame any parent for choosing to homeschool their child in the current environment, not only because it’s a goddamn terrifying pandemic but because — as Mitchell rightly said in her piece — managing distance learning was hard on all of us, including our children. But let’s not forget that “all of us” includes teachers, who were doing their best to do their jobs in an impossibly difficult situation.
It’s an indefensible leap to say that the temporary homeschooling that works for some children and families is the equivalent of quality universal public education. It’s particularly dangerous to assert that what works for a specific privileged few will work for the community at large, and we should challenge that assumption wherever we find it — especially when it comes to the principle of education as a fundamental right for all children.