Labor Voices: Education during pandemic requires teamwork and safety

March 10, 2021
By Paula Herbart/President – Michigan Education Association

In sports, teamwork is valued by coaches, players and fans because we are stronger working together than alone.

The same is true in education. During the pandemic, a strong team bond has formed between educators, students and families. Working together like never before, that team has created new ways of teaching and learning to meet ever-changing needs.

Unfortunately, there are some who seek to divide that team — to pit families and educators against each other. It’s up to all of us to stick together in making safety and quality education a priority for our students.

Of course, there have been bumps in the road, but we’ve worked together to solve problems.

In virtual learning, families are an essential partner — from parents creating physical study space to big brothers and sisters providing IT support (the true household MVPs). Hybrid learning has required schedule flexibility as parents juggled work and family obligations.

Educators have worked long days, making themselves available at all hours to help their students and reworking lesson plans to meet different methods to deliver student learning.

And students have done the work — even when they simply longed to return to friends and a normal life.
As forms of in-person learning expand in districts around the state, it is essential for our team to keep working together on several fronts.

Families are instrumental in demanding a safe environment when students return to the classroom. Along with educators, they have called on school districts to adhere to all CDC guidelines for safe in-person learning — not just picking ones that are easy to implement. Families, educators and students must remain vigilant on safety in and out of school. Reopening buildings is an important first step, but keeping them open will require continued team effort.

Standardized testing is another issue that has historically unified the team. For years, parents have questioned the value of these tests. Students find them mind-numbingly boring and meaningless, as they have no effect on their grades. Educators lament spending weeks of class time preparing for and administering tests that don’t reliably measure student achievement or provide meaningful feedback.

Given the health and safety issues that kept many students and teachers from face-to-face instruction for nearly a year, valuable learning time should be spent teaching, not testing.

Schools have continued to administer locally chosen, less disruptive “benchmark” tests, which offer immediate results to guide instruction. Our team needs to support this testing approach that aids teaching and allows educators more time to address the pandemic’s mental, emotional and social effects on our children.

Rather than focusing on these common interests however, some critics are pushing “divide-and-conquer” rhetoric instead. The recycled trope of blaming educators and their unions has become the message from some who are unwilling to accept the reality that health and safety must continue to be our priority.

My appeal to families and educators alike: Remember that working together is more powerful than division.

Our shared experience this past year has helped parents appreciate the essential role of educators — and educators value interaction with students and families even more than before.

Do not be a silent majority that fails to be heard about health and safety. Speak up at school board meetings if you agree with thoughtful approaches that are happening — or, if you disagree with decisions that put political expediency ahead of safety and student needs.

Families, educators and students have created a formidable team to continue the work of education during the pandemic. As we work to keep everyone safe while broadening in-person learning, we must keep the team together to ensure our students have the opportunity to succeed.

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