Opinion: It is Time for Real Change – and That Change is Long Overdue
By Christy S. Martin, Ed.D.
Our school calendar, based on factors that are long gone, is one of the most antiquated things that still exists in schools. We are no longer hampered by the agriculture calendar that was necessary for families in the nineteenth century, yet it still dictates how our schools do business.
We have been unexpectedly yanked into the technology age of education and it is long overdue. Infrastructure is being extended to remote areas and children of all incomes are being provided hardware and software to learn from home. All this happened as a result of the pandemic, which has moved us ahead decades in education. We must remember what we have learned in the last few months and build on what our communities need.
Schools exist to teach children. As our nation has evolved, some things have changed, but more change is needed. How schools look now will change. More of our kids will learn at home. Perhaps under the umbrella of public schools, private institutions or homeschooling. They will not be in our buildings in the same way and we will not teach them the same way.
The pandemic and quarantine have made necessary the fluctuation of youth between in-person and online in classes. This could become the normal and it could be a year-round situation. Many parents have been able to work from home. A blessing, as their children were at home as well. Parents found they need the relief that school gives them, but thy welcome the flexibility of online learning and work. Future schools might be able to provide both. Teachers in many districts are dealing with smaller numbers of children in-person and online.
It is necessary to have plans in place to work with the needs of the adults that keep our economy moving. In the event that schools must close again, schools should be prepared with child-care options to accommodate working parents and online classes for kids. We need options that parents can count on every day as they plan life with their families. We need to plan for 12 months of some type of school and safe place for children. Flexibility is the key here.
Each child can be given their goals for the year and objectives for a grading period. They could choose where and how they meet those goals and should be evaluated on a regular basis with meetings that include all involved school personnel and parents.
Instruction should be available every month of the year for those who need more and for those who excel. Long past is the time for entire classroom objectives for the 9 weeks. We should accommodate every child’s needs and we can do it with the flexibility we now have.
Life has changed dramatically, and the rigidity of a different era is gone. Buildings soon may look different with some teachers teaching all virtual classes, some small in-person classes and some children in childcare working online in the building. Cafeterias can become more flexible with serving times that provide to-go options and more casual dining. We must structure, but with an open mind to what is more accommodating to staff, students and parents.
We have the ability to provide safe places for children that need it, year-round. We can provide learning, monitoring, health services and food, as well as an environment that keeps kids warm and comfortable all year long and open 12 hours per day.
Teachers and some other school personnel, those that wish to, could work a flexible amount of time to meet their needs and those of their families. Pay could be determined by the amount of time, by days or months worked. Part-time and full-time schedules could be a part of this new look.
Starting today, we must clear the fog from our view of outdated schools of the past. The pandemic has catapulted us into a new world of education, and we must start thinking in a new way about a new era in education.
Many school systems surveyed parents as to their needs before this school year began. A more comprehensive survey of their needs might give educators that serve not just students, but their communities, a whole new picture of the future. Viewing the schools through the lens of the community that now needs us to exist in a different way is a great place to start.
About the author
Dr. Christy Martin recently retired with 30 plus years of experience as an educator in K-12 and higher education and another 6 years in social service for foster youth. She considers advocating for at-risk youth a calling. Since retiring in February, she has returned to her love of writing, currently practicing that craft by writing about child welfare and school issues. She lives in East Tennessee, 15 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum