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Jane S. Bray column: How the pandemic might change schools forever
COVID-19 and teaching

Jane S. Bray column: How the pandemic might change schools forever

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In January 2020, the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the United States and, over the past year, our daily lives drastically have been altered by the ensuing global pandemic.

The changes, sickness and deaths previously were unimaginable, yet now are devastatingly commonplace. As we yearn to return to “normal” there will be permanent changes to our lives resulting from the pandemic. For students, educators and parents, the pandemic has the potential to change schools forever in positive ways.

Most recently, loud cries are coming from parents and caregivers, as well as from the Biden administration, to get our children back to classrooms. Funding is being proposed for schools to upgrade outdated ventilation systems and to support fewer students in classrooms.

Vaccinations for teachers remain a sticking point, and new research indicates that additional resources will be needed for school counselors. This critical element has surfaced due to the ongoing mental health issues and increasing suicide rates that our students across our nation are experiencing.

The pandemic has forced teachers and administrators to think differently and more creatively about how schools operate. Before the pandemic, teachers and administrators would never have believed their teaching styles and delivery methods could so dramatically have changed.

Nor would they have believed they literally could implement those changes overnight. But they did, and we all should commend and admire teachers and administrators throughout the country.

This new information resulting from the pandemic provides rich data that schools must use to move forward implementing different structures and changing the traditional ways that previously were the norm in schools. The pandemic forces schools to examine how we teach students, where we teach and how schools are organized.

We also have experienced deep and challenging equity issues in education during the pandemic. The pandemic forced teachers and schools to openly discuss equity issues and to work hard to provide for all students from all backgrounds.

It also clearly has emphasized learning differences, technology needs and the personal struggles students face every day, with or without the pandemic.

One might argue that teachers and administrators always should have been focused on equity and on all students’ needs. And they were, but not to the depth nor to the creative levels that they needed to reach and have yet to achieve for all students.

Though the burden of ensuring equity begins in the community and not necessarily in the classroom, teachers and administrators have taken the lead utilizing creative means to focus on improving the education of all students.

You might recall that prior to the pandemic, the nation was experiencing a severe teacher shortage. The pandemic severely has exacerbated that shortage. The pandemic also has resulted in unemployment rates that reached some of their highest levels since the Great Depression.

Schools have the great potential to now engage individuals who currently are unemployed with efforts to entice them into the classroom. For example, there are teacher and support staff programs that could prepare individuals for positions working in schools and in the private business education sector as well.

These various programs could meet the needs of unemployed individuals with high school diplomas to those who have college degrees.

Admittedly, positions working in schools with children might not be a good fit for everyone. However, it would be a tremendous gain for schools to attract more individuals to their workforce and clearly, this would be an opportunity for some who currently are unemployed to get back into the workforce.

Finally, respect for schools and teachers sorely has been lacking in our nation. During the pandemic, schooling for our children has been far from an easy experience for all who are involved, especially parents and caregivers.

Is it too far-fetched to hope that the nation might now have more respect for the dedication and daily hard work of our teachers and schools?

A newfound respect and understanding of the importance of schools, and the significance of the work that teachers and counselors do as front-line workers, hopefully will be one of the future changes for our schools. I hold this as one of the greatest potential positive changes resulting from the pandemic.

It is an understatement that the pandemic has been devastating in so many ways to our schools, to our economy and to our families.

It would be another loss to squander this “lessons learned” opportunity if teachers and schools do not recognize and capitalize on the positive effects of the pandemic. The time for change is right now, and it might not come around for another hundred years.

Jane S. Bray is the former dean of the Darden College of Education & Professional Studies at Old Dominion University in Norfolk. Now retired, she also is professor and dean emeritus of Millersville University of Pennsylvania, and the former chair of the board of directors for the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, headquartered in Washington, D.C. Contact her at: jsbray@odu.edu

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