Over the last few weeks, I have had several conversations with fellow teachers about a phenomenon that none of us can seem to explain. As hybrid teachers this school, we have come to rely more on virtual forms of communication to connect with our students throughout the week. We use announcements, email, chat, video conferencing, and feedback on assignments to communicate with our students. Despite the different ways that we reach out to them, it seems that some of our students still have difficulty communicating with us when they are struggling in our classes. We post different ways that they can get a hold of us, including our classroom phone numbers and our availability for office hours. Some of us even provide one-on-one video conferencing weekly for students who are especially having difficulty. And yet, so few of them actually reach out with questions or concerns about the assignments, about their grades, or about how they are doing in general.
I know that there are some educators who do not have the best reputations for communicating clearly with students and parents. Some teachers do not respond to emails from students or parents in a timely fashion. This last week, one of my virtual students indicated that some of her teachers in the past have taken up to four or five days to respond to her concerns through email. Now, we are all busy as educators, especially this school year in light of all of the ways that we need to deliver our instruction and communicate with our students. However, responding to a student’s concern is of paramount importance for educators. These responses should be quick and informative to help our students, especially those who are learning 100% virtually. They do not have the ability to talk to us after class, before class, after school, before school, during lunch, or between classes. Their only form of communication with us is through email, chat, video conferencing, or a phone call.
Despite the fact that some teachers are not the best at communicating with parents and students, this problem goes much deeper than that. There is a distrust between school and home for many families, especially in communities that have had bad experiences with public education. If a parent or grandparent has had a negative experience with a school, with an administrator, with a teacher, with a class, or within the school community, this is often communicated to current students. This is not the problem. It is completely appropriate for parents and family members to express their concerns about the difficulties they have experienced in the past with their education. The problem is that sometimes the community does not know how to move forward, and they wind up rejecting the opportunities to trust the current teachers, administrators, and school climate.
I do not teach for any other reason but for the benefit of my students. I have a deep concern for them, just like I do for my own son. I want them to succeed not just in my class but in their lives after high school. I want to hear how they have used lessons from my class in college, in their lives in the military, in their careers, and within their families. I want them to graduate from high school on time so that they can celebrate this achievement with their families and friends.
Most educators have the same mindset. We are educators because we value our students, their families, and our communities. We believe that education is the great equalizer. We believe that education opens doors that were once closed. We believe that education gives students the understanding that they have a voice that matters and the tools to use this voice.
I don’t understand why a wall has been built between home and school. I don’t understand why many people in our communities don’t trust educators. I don’t understand why so many of us who have dedicated our lives to public education are seen as the villains in society. These false depictions of educators have damaged the relationships that students could build with their teachers who are committed to their success in school and in life.
Over this last school year, in light of COVID-19 shut downs, society has placed microscopic scrutiny on public education. In the spring, everyone loved us because they saw our creativity and care in reaching out to their children when we were forced to shut our doors but continue the school year. They yelled at us, and sometimes cussed at us, when we wanted to protect our own health and the health of our loved ones when we said that we wouldn’t return to in-person instruction without safety protocols put in place that were based on CDC recommendations. We’ve been applauded, ridiculed, denigrated, and encouraged by the communities we serve. And we continue to get up every day, prepared to teach the children in our communities with care, ingenuity, content expertise, wisdom, and dedication.
If you have added to the discordant voices that have built distrust between students and teachers, please stop it. One of my colleagues tells her students to stop fighting her when she is just trying to teach them. I want to ask the public to stop fighting us as well. We are honestly trying to help develop the minds and souls of our children. We are committed to their education, and we desire for them to have meaningful lives. We may not always agree with how to go about this. We may not always have the same worldview as those in our community, but we do have this in common: we want our children to be educated for their own benefit and the benefit of our world.