We have surveyed and talked to parents and teachers, but have we really asked the students how they feel about the last year? I recently took some time to hear what the kids have to say. As I talked with students in kindergarten through fifth grade, I kept it positive and listened to their responses to three simple items. I wanted to hear their favorite thing about being back at school, their favorite thing about learning from home, and which they liked better and why. Of course, we were socially distanced and wearing face masks as we talked, so I could only see their eyes and hand movements as they spoke. I could see they were very excited to talk. Their thoughts on each matter were sweet, honest, and profound. They were happy that somebody was asking their opinions about the last year, and they would have talked for much longer if I had the time to let them keep going.
Favorite Things about Learning at School
Every student described a social aspect in their response to their favorite thing about being back in school. Each one of them said their favorite thing was seeing their teacher. In first through fifth grade, most of the students added their friends to their responses, but they all mentioned their teachers. This is no surprise to any person who works or interacts with other people of any age on a regular basis. Humans are social creatures. We need to interact with 3-dimensional human beings.
This goes for our kids too. Teachers, if you have begun to doubt your importance, stop it right now. Here is one small sampling of children, who, without hesitation, said you were one of the best parts of being in school. You are important and they want to see you!
Favorite Things about Learning from Home
The second topic brought interesting responses… They were incredibly varied ranging from nothing good about learning from home to spending more time with family and pets. “Having my favorite blankie with me” and “Being at home with my mom” were two of the sweet responses from younger students. From the older students, the positives were more about their own control of the situation. A few of the older students enjoyed wearing pajama pants with their uniform shirt. A couple of them liked being able to eat whenever they wanted a snack. The responses to this topic were a stark reminder that we are not “all in this together.” Not every child had the best home to be stuck inside for a year while the media fed us messages that we are “all in this together.” I spoke with about 25 students, and the answers were this varied. We were never "all in this together." Any suggestions otherwise are pure propaganda from privileged people who have the luxury and ignorance of thinking that we all had the same experience over the last year. I fear that children became the sacrificial lambs and it may take a long time before we know the effects of frequent handwashing, sanitizing, covering our faces, standing 6 feet apart, staying home as much as possible, and obeying all in authority because we are constantly told it is for our own good. I have spoken with multiple parents whose children of a wide range of ages have developed new and extreme fears of germs and new habits of incessant handwashing because of this. I fear there will be more psychological, physical, and social effects to surface in the years to come. We will all see as new issues arise and the root causes appear to be related to the events of 2020.
Which Do you Like Better- Learning from Home or Learning from School?
The younger children who liked having their blankie and mom with them while learning also liked learning from home more than learning at school. Even in a normal year, kindergarten children might express a preference for staying home for these reasons. Aside from those responses, the remaining students preferred learning at school. All students liked being with their teacher and making or seeing friends. By second grade, responses began including the benefits to their academics. They felt they understood better when they were at school. They could ask questions and the teacher would see them. “My teacher doesn’t always see us on Zoom when we have a question.” “It was boring to watch everything on the computer. It is more fun here. I feel like I just learn better when I am here.”
The Profound Idea of Glitches
A few students from third through fifth grade cited frustrations with technology. My favorite technology response was from a student in fourth grade. “In the real world, people and things don’t just glitch out.” Think about that. We do not just freeze up and disconnect in real life when something goes wrong…. Or do we? Is that what happened in 2020? Did the decision-makers figure this year would just be like a glitch… that we’d all freeze for a while and have to disconnect or reboot? That we would pop back to life mid-sentence and pick up where we left off a year later- or whenever they determine it is safe for all of us? Did they think the kids would just reboot and carry on like this was a glitch in the software? That might be a best-case scenario. Kids can be quite resilient, so for many of them, I really hope it is that simple.
Tending to the Treasures
Until we know for sure how the last year has affected children, as educators, we will continue to do what we know is best for the kids. Care about them and teach them…. In that order. That is why we chose education. We care for and tend to the greatest, most precious treasures in the world. We cannot glitch out on them. Listen to them and hear them. It may be hard through a face mask, but they will tell you a lot if you make a point to hear them. They have been waiting to see us and are counting on us to help restore all they have missed this year.