-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Do you remember Friday, March 13th, 2020? Depending on your school system, the day was different for everyone. For Paulding County Schools, this was the last in person day for the 2019-2020 school year. Yep, Friday the 13th.
I still remember everything with crystal clear clarity. I was/am a substitute teacher. The county had announced that there would be school on Friday, but it wouldn’t count against attendance. Then we would be out for at least a week, to play it safe. Most of the advanced kids came into school, and most of the on level skipped. Throughout the day, kids were texting their parents to check them out. We ended up with about 6 per class, when the actual records showed there should be 30.
The stress was real. The teachers were already pushed to the edge. They were behind on their grading, and used the low attendance like a teacher workday. Other smaller classes were jammed into my smaller class, and the teachers caught up while I gave them busy work related to their class.
One student had joked, “I hope Covid is real, so we’re not back next week.” I replied, “You better hope this is an over-reaction, because if this is all real, you won’t like the consequences. (I had just watched a YouTube special on the 1918 flu pandemic. Call Caitlin Daughty prophetic, or just wise, but it was completely on point.) Then everything just froze.
Not literally, it was a nice Georgia March day. Just, everything that was real about Thursday, March 12th, froze in place on Friday, March 13th.
Covid didn’t cause anything, it only amplified what was already there.
Everyone was already extremely close to their breaking point on March 12th. You can’t take a system created during the Industrial Revolution and paste inclusivity and student specific ideas on top of it. The school system was created to be a machine, and machines don’t work that way. There were stress fractures already showing up in the cogs and pulleys. The system was being held up by neglecting the smartest, and overworking the servant leaders.
By neglecting the smartest, I mean allocating resources to the ones who needed remediation, and overpacking the advanced classes. This was considered a small sacrifice to the advanced education in favor of bringing the lower level back up to equilibrium. Advanced parents were not told this, but they knew they were “taking one for the team.”
Once Covid hit, it was the advanced parents who found opportunities for their kids. Maybe it was becoming a homeschool parent. Maybe it was private school options. Before Covid, parents across the country were over “taking one for the team.” What started as overpacking the classrooms began to take on bigger sacrifices: Putting high learners with low learners so the high student began remediating the lower student. This sounds great on paper, but the chasm was too wide. The lower learners were not being raised by those who just naturally knew the material, and those who knew the material were not pushed further into their education. It took away the joy of learning, and the advanced parents saw it. Once they had a way to take them out, they didn’t need to sacrifice their child for the sake of all children.
By overworking the servant leaders, I mean fleecing them of their time, energy and spirit. When was the last time you saw a Teacher of the Year, who was being raised for keeping healthy boundaries, while educating his or her children? The question was redundant. You haven’t. We use Teacher of the Year as a form of abuse. These school systems tell teachers what their job description is, and then bully them into sacrificing beyond them. The whole education system is being held up through these continual sacrifices. I’ve said this before, and I’ll continue to say it: When sacrifice is required it’s not sacrifice- it’s abuse.
Our nation tells teachers they will pay them 30-50 thousand dollars a year to work 9 months at a school. What they don’t tell them is during those nine months, they are not doing well unless it’s a 60 hour work week. Then they are not doing well unless they also pre-plan during the time off. Then they are doing well unless they can get the kid’s test numbers up. Then they are not doing well unless they try their hardest to communicate with the parents of underperforming kids. Then they are not doing well unless they can make the education jazzy and energized. Then they are not doing well unless…
It just keeps going. There is never a magic moment where it is enough. The three months are held like a carrot, but once it comes, it’s never a reward, it’s a necessity.
If that wasn’t enough, that break is used to guilt any corrective measures that could be done to work towards fixing the system. “I don’t get week-long/month-long breaks at my work!”
Yes, but do you get potty breaks? You read that right. Can you step away from your desk and go to the bathroom to pee? Can you take a moment away from your job to catch your breath? When you do get a moment to catch your breath, is that all it is, or are you suddenly pulled to a meeting? Does your “work” yell at you in the face, and flat out refuse to do what it’s supposed to do? Do you go home and weep, because you know you can’t do it all, but all is expected of you?
The machine marches on.
Meanwhile, the machine keeps moving the kids along. Only now, instead of pushing them along the conveyor belt at the right time, now there are cracks and missing pieces. It’s like Lucy trying to stay ahead of the chocolate, only she can’t. It’s coming whether she wants it or not. It’s hilarious to watch, but devastating to consider. Kids who need to go slower, and do it again, are being pushed forward and moved along.
The worst part is the machine has been frozen for a year and a half. Things cannot be defrosted and work the same way after they thaw. For machines, parts that naturally function without much work, suddenly choke up. That’s because the parts dry out and start to crumble. Add the already cracked pieces that were frozen on March 13, 2020, we find ourselves in a very dangerous and unstoppable place right now.
It can’t be stopped.
I like to brainstorm solutions. I see the problem, and then I play out different options in my head. It’s what I do, because the idea of anything else breaks my heart. You must know what it means for me to say this:
The education system in the United States is close to imminent failure, and we can no longer stop it.
For that matter, everything is close to imminent failure right now. Everything I’m about to write can be transferred to the restaurant industry, retail, housing, and even the Church. I can see it, and we all need to brace for impact. (Which does not mean go buy out the grocery store. Sit still and read.)
Everything that I see being done is a bandage to a bigger problem.
Before the pandemic, subs were already overworked, and underappreciated. They were disposable. Subs go in, get beaten and chewed up, quits, and new ones take their place. Nothing needed to be fixed, because there was always going to be a new group following the jaded and broken crew. Only, before the pandemic, there wasn’t. We were just beginning to deal with an epic sub shortage. A parent wants to be a part of his or her child’s life. They want to personally know their child’s teachers, and feel good about it. The school system chose to keep pay low, and have absolutely no benefits, because they knew most of this supply was coming from their very parents.Only, no parent is signing up to be yelled at and ignored by someone else’s kid. Their system was already failing. Raising sub pay is not a permanent option, and it’s the only change being raised at this moment.
Before the pandemic, bus splits and sub buses were a natural part of school. It was pretty normal to hear one bus was going to be another bus. Bus drivers have it worse than substitute teachers. The kids have absolutely no respect or care for the adult driving. Many of these adults were retired adults, taking on a few extra hours for a little more pay. You tell them they must be with kids who will not mask or contact trace once on the bus, and many were out. One county went virtual because three bus workers died of Covid. Making each high school virtual one day a week is not going to fix the problem. Who wants to spend their retirement years on a bus overpacked with kids who are doing things that put themselves or others in danger?
Before the pandemic, the teachers were at their breaking point. I could feel it emanating off of them. They had to spend so much time just jumping through hoops, crossing “t’s and dotting “i”s. Their classes were so bloated it made it too difficult to maintain order in order to teach. Once the pandemic hit, the teachers had two simultaneous feelings. First, they could get a breath. They knew everything was hitting a breaking point, and to just freeze it was needed for their mental health. Second, they saw they were abused. They saw parents completely ignoring them in the equation regarding getting their kid back to school. These parents wanted their baby to get the education every kid had been getting for generations. Only, as the parents scream to get the machine running again at full power, teachers are just leaving. New teachers are not even going into education. Adding all the caveats has made it too difficult to do what these educators love: teach. Not caring for your servant leaders and only praising them when they bleed themselves out, just dries out the pool of educators.
Complete and total failure
All this to say- yes it’s going to fail. Many things are on the edge of complete failure. If you can’t see it, maybe you feel it. It’s our communal brokenness. We can’t see our neighbor, much less love them. We “nothing” them, which is the opposite of love.
We don’t need to be buying things up. We need to open our eyes. We need to listen. When it fails, and it will, we will need each other more than we’ll need things. As people frantically try to get that last something, (a normal education for their kid, a Christmas gift, or a gallon of milk), we are not getting the thing we desperately need the most once these machines fail: each other.