The source is uncertain (Quote Investigator), but the words are true. I’ve been feeling them deeply at the end of 2021. Many of my colleagues are listing their publications for the year, justifiably proud of their accomplishments. One tweeted about work wins that include one book, four articles, two chapters, five podcast episodes, three reviewed pieces, four opinion pieces, seven book reviews, two reading guides, three keynotes, three guest lectures, and seven panels. I get tired just READING those accomplishments!! Tenure will be no problem. And well deserved. This person is brilliant, determined, hard-working, and forward-thinking. Another, equally brilliant, is designing classes based on dissertation research that will become a book. Google Scholar can be overwhelming when I consider the work of my friends and acquaintances.
Me? Well, there was a book chapter that I actually wrote last December and an article in the Spring. There’s another manuscript that I’m third author on that has been in the works for several years that may or may not ever find a home. At the moment, I don’t have any academic work in progress (although I just remembered I do have a book review to write). Even so, it’s hardly enough work to impress potential employers or tenure reviewers.
But wait. Why do I compare my academic output with those who are at the beginnings of careers that will break boundaries? My goal in academia has never been prodigious publications, but influence on individuals. I earned a PhD so that I could be better equipped to mentor, challenge, and cheer for the next generation of educators. A list of accomplishments may make me happy for a moment, but it doesn’t bring me true joy.
Joy in education for me is when a high school student from the 1990s finds me on social media and tells me that my classroom was a place where she was able to be her authentic self. That she felt heard and celebrated in the community I fostered. Joy comes from other students over the years who have confided in me, long after they left the four walls of the school building that they still remembered the lessons of personal responsibility blended with compassion-and that they took those lessons into their own families and careers. Joy comes when I get an unexpected tweet from a grad student in response to a post about grace that has little to do with school and everything to do with relationships.
I say in my personal teaching statement that my philosophy is a simple syllogism:
Every person is a story
Every story matters
Therefore, every person matters
The things that bring me joy are not accolades or citations (I like them, don’t misunderstand), but the long term relationships that come from who I touch through what I do. That’s the source of my joy in academia. Anything else is frosting on an already delicious cake.
Stop any conversation you hear (or might have considered starting) that “our kids are behind” and “they must catch up.” I respectfully ask, “Behind what?” “Catch up to what?” Our kids are not behind as a result of a pandemic though at some other time I will happily discuss the insidious systemic racial inequalities that have always existed in our schools, inequalities that have kept many with fewer opportunities than others. But our students are not “behind” now because of this pandemic.
What they are is stressed, anxious, lonely, worried, frustrated, and afraid of what happens next. But they are not behind a reading level or a math skill or a science concept. Rarely have I ever encountered any one concept in any classroom that is only taught once. We teach and reteach; we push kids to apply learned skills, strategies, and concepts in increasingly complex ways across the grades. That will continue to happen and anyone who says, “But they should have learned about mixed fractions in third grade and now we’ll have to do it in fourth grade” is too worried about benchmark learning and not focused enough on what learning should actually be about.
In many ways, our students across all grades have learned skills no one would have expected them to learn at their ages.They have been required to sit at a computer screen for 5, 6, 7 hours a day and figure out different learning platforms. They have had to figure out what to do when a school requires they be in their synchronous learning classroom when the sibling or parent is using the one computer in the home. Many have learned to monitor their own learning while watching siblings, preparing meals for siblings, or being scared while they are home alone. Many have finally returned to schools to be told, “Don’t touch,” “Don’t hug,” “Don’t get too close,” “Don’t share,” . . . . In a world where we want them to experience all they can do, they have been put behind see-through plastic screens on desks pushed that have been pushed six feet apart and told all that they can’t do.
In spite of all that, they have learned critical skills. They have learned empathy; they have – whether they realize it or not – become global citizens. They have learned what it means to stay inside; to substitute “I want to” with “I should.” And too many have learned what happens when parents lose jobs; too many have learned, at far too young an age, what grief is. They have learned that fear in the pit of your stomach when you hear someone you love has contracted Covid. They have learned how to cope with difficulties we never dreamed of preparing them to learn.
They have learned that some neighborhoods had more neighbors to contract the disease; they have learned that some hospitals received fewer supplies or received them later than other hospitals; they have seen, now, far more white people receive the vaccine than people of color or people of poverty. And they have questions about that. Questions they have been told “Don’t ask” and teachers have been told “Don’t answer.” They have learned that kindness counts. They have learned what it means to be without and how good it feels to help and to receive help. They have learned that in the worst of moments, they survived.
To dare to say our kids are behind, is to demean all the parents and teachers in this nation who have done their best under circumstances we never dared to imagine but experienced each and every day. These circumstances, for many teachers, were made worse when ridiculous requirements such as how long they must be at their computers, what they must do to show they are indeed teaching, how much they must cover of a curriculum that mattered little this year, how they must buy their own personal protection equipment and use their own dollars to supply classrooms with sanitizers, and teach face-to-face with no vaccines were never ending. This year has caused even our most veteran of teachers to question how they keep going and has reduced our novice teachers to questioning if they will stay in teaching. And now, now they are reminded they must never, ever forget the forthcoming TEST.
Stop relying on that ridiculous state test. It doesn’t measure a critical thing about what was learned this year or what was taught. If universities can set aside the lauded SAT/ACT this year, then what are we saying to our children, parents, and teachers when we say, “Oh, yes, we’ll be giving THE TEST this year”? What are we showing we value? Yes, let’s have a long-overdue conversation about this test. But for now, STOP the demands to “Make sure the kids are ready.”
To the U.S. Department of Education, stop waiting for states to ask for waivers to give THE TEST. Step in and stop the insanity.
To Dr. Jill Biden, thank you for your support of teachers and please see if you can perhaps push a little sanity into decisions being made right now.
And to all teachers: Stop listening to those who say your kids are behind. That’s a statement without merit, offered in unprecedented times, that is uttered by those who value testing, not learning, and statistics, not students. To those who say such things, I say they have not seen you delivering food to homes with little or none, staying online to talk to the kid who is alone, accepting work at any point in the unit, crying when one kid finally shows up because your heart has worried about that child/teen, and laughing with your students when a cat arrives to sit upon your shoulders. They haven’t seen all you have done to explain the unexplainable while you, too, wonder at this nation’s insanity.
Dear teachers, stop saying, “I can’t” because you have. You have shown up. You have done what you did not think you could. You have taught your kids under the worst of situations because it’s what you do. You are tired, stressed, anxious, worried, and feeling alone. I wish I could make those feelings go away. But I can remind you that feelings of inadequacy should be shoved aside. Please don’t think you can’t, because you did. You gave our nation’s students needed normalcy (though a new normalcy) and you showed them grace when few extended the same to you.
Our nation owes you so much and gives you so little. I wish we would all stop any belittling remarks toward teachers and those administrators who do support them. So, to all of the rest of us; stop saying what your child’s teacher did not do and start thanking that teacher for what was done.
Kylene Beers, Ed.D.
Co-author with Bob Probst of Forged by Reading, Disrupting Thinking, Notice and Note, and Reading Nonfiction
National Leadership Award recipient by the National Council Teachers of English
Teachers Choice Award recipient for Disrupting Thinking
Past President of the National Council of Teachers of English
I did a thing. My first book chapter was released today and I’m excited to share it. EEK! I’ll add a picture to this post when my hard copy arrives, but in the meantime, take a look!
This chapter considers the affordances of smartphones as tools for arts integration in English language arts classrooms. It discusses the importance of students as creators of content and how teachers may capture the social tools already within student possession to function as learning tools as well. Arts-based instruction is briefly discussed as an important element for students’ full participation in the multiliteracies that make up much of communication in modern society. While literacy in the form of reading and writing must always be the goal of the ELA teacher, it is also important to recognize the role of multiple literacies as legitimate forms of text. The chapter also includes specific ideas for students’ smartphone compositions that teachers may consider.
I have been an admirer and friend of Buffy Hamilton since we met in 2014. She is one of the most creative teachers I have ever met, and her commitment to her students in unparalleled. I have wanted to write with her for years, and finally the perfect call came from the NCTE journal Voices from the Middle. It was a short notice collaboration, but since I had studied Buffy’s practices for so long, I was able to take her ideas and teaching practices and compose an article that was published September 2020.
This article is about how classroom design that reflects student needs can help students feel good about their learning. The space put them in a mindset where they weren’t “doing school” as much as they were learning by choice.
I am excited about the article, written before the pandemic, and hope to write a follow-up with how Buffy has maintained her creative voice during the pandemic.