The Light at the End of the Tunnel

As the holiday season progresses, as we approach the winter school break, there is no doubt that we are coming to the end of what has been for many of us the most challenging year in our lives and certainly the most challenging year in the history of ICS.

I am so grateful for all that our school teams have done under these challenging circumstances to sustain each other, our students, and their families.

At this moment, we may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. The COVID vaccine is on the horizon. Some of us are beginning to visualize the end of the pandemic and a return to normalcy whatever that may mean. We are hoping it means in-person instruction.

And we know that things will be different. In the last nine months, we have learned things that we never expected to learn. We will return to a new normal. Will we ever return to in-person parent-teacher conferences? Perhaps only for a minority of parents. 

Now is the time to be careful. Many of us have been running on adrenalin and with the vision of an end to the pandemic looming just over the horizon, we are really feeling the exhaustion. In this moment and over the next months, it is important that we all pay attention to our bodies, listen to our bodies. At the same time that you are endeavoring to push through the final stretch, make sure you are getting enough sleep.

We have all been online, — it may seem to have been constant, — for nine months. Please make sure that you are shutting down some time every day. Rest your eyes. Give your brain a break. Spend uninterrupted time with your family. 

Some of us have had very little alone time. Make some time for yourself. Take a walk. Read a book, a non-work book. Write a poem. Paint a picture.

Recognition of the heroic teacher effort has driven the decision to take the “evaluation” out of the observation and review process. School leaders are stepping up to help and support teachers. We are lightening up on the judgments this year. We hope this relieves some of the pressure that many are feeling.

And we are striving to bring the same spirit to our students and their families. Like our school teams, they have all been under incredible pressure and like us, they are feeling the exhaustion.

Students and families have been inspired and sustained by our efforts by minimizing the adverse effects of the pandemic on our students’ education.

As I write this, I am remembering a podcast by a University of Minnesota epidemiologist early in the pandemic. He said we were in a war with the coronavirus. He was optimistic we would win the war. And he was sure there would be casualties.

Lately, Diane and I have been spending some evening together time watching an old BBC mini-series. I have seen many images of the London Blitz of World War II. Schooling was inevitably disrupted, more for some students than for others. In our current “war” too, schooling has been disrupted, more for some students than for others. Despite heroic efforts during COVID to make sure students had the technology they needed and the teacher’s success in maintaining live instruction often while dealing with their own family challenges, some students will have lost a year or more of their education.

I was taught in graduate school to distinguish “private troubles” from “public issues.” Falling behind in their education this year is not a student’s private trouble — it is a public issue, a community challenge. Children and families should not be shamed for failing to keep up during the COVID war. Neither should we deny the educational devastation which has occurred.

Of course, it could have been worse. (And it may get worse before it’s all over). Without the heroic efforts of our teams, it certainly would have been worse. The challenge which we will face as we emerge from the war, a challenge which parallels the widely acknowledged need to rebuild the economy is the need to rebuild the education system, not just in exalted, abstract, “systemic” terms but the need to rebuild on a student-by-student basis each child’s education. Our teams need to talk about this reality among themselves, and they need to talk about it with our students and their families.

For students who have lost a year or more of learning, we will not get back to normalcy in a matter of weeks or over one summer. How will we help students regain their educational traction and momentum? How quickly can we get them back on track? The reality, I think, is that some students may actually graduate from high school a year later than they expected. This is not a personal failure. It is not the fault of students and families. And it most certainly is not a teacher failure. It is a cost of war. The process of recovery in education as in the economy is likely to be a longer episode in our lives than the pandemic itself.

As we begin the holiday season, as we approach school break, as we envision the end of the pandemic, I am so grateful for the heroism of our teams. And I am mindful of the heroic efforts that will be required in the New Year.