It's Been a Year
To draw a connection between anything and COVID this year would be not only to understate the actual issues of the world but would be to highlight what has now become a cliche. But even with this in mind, it is not a cliche or overstatement to declare that this year has been a year. Just yesterday, I gained word that at least one student in a former classroom attempted suicide in the past few months. Others have published novels. Others led protests for Palestine, BLM, Climate Justice. All of them have been through a roller coaster of emotion, experience, and life, despite their few years on Earth.
In the last year, I also changed schools, sometime right after the pandemic ended the first school year of its lifetime at the end of 2020. The first school I taught at was a challenging, urban charter school that attempted to put a majority of students of color through to a 4 year college and success. Against overwhelming odds, they accomplished this goal, but the work was exhausting, literally to the point of burnout. Indeed, many of my coworkers were former Teach For America candidates, a notoriously challenging teacher burnout program. Add to this the fact that the charter school quite literally was designed to be worked at for 4 years or less, and it adds to the potential stress. On top of all of this, of course, was the challenging student body. The kids were amazing, but, as an undergraduate professor used to say, they were those that, despite needing the most help, always asked for it in the hardest of ways. Emotionally taxing, this added to the pressures put on by the school district and from the incessantly long, arduous meetings that carried on for what seemed like years, almost none of which were particularly useful or productive.
Switching to this year, life and pedagogy could not be more dissimilar. Out in the suburbs of Redmond, one of the richest areas in the country, this year's school is a private school. Most students' parents work at Microsoft or nearby Google, T-Mobile or other hyper-competitive tech industries. The yearly tuition is a third of my salary. And many of the students are driven, already 2-3 grade levels ahead, despite the fact that I moved down into middle school for the year. On top of this, micromanaging is at a minimum, the school is an International baccalaureate program, and it is college prep and advanced, with tons of academic freedom and ability to create and manage new clubs and classes, quite to the contrary of the strict, rigid nature of the charter school.
And even though I have belabored the point, it is worth pointing out again. These two schools are in the same county. A key difference, of course, is that one of them has money, while the other does not. And this relates quite clearly to something about education that I have often said. Many kids--maybe even most students--really do want to do well. The difference these schools represent, though, is indicative of the divide that exists between those at the top and those at the bottom. And while the picture is immensely more complex than this black and white image, it is a simple reminder that sometimes our ZIP Code can determine so much about our lives.
So beyond COVID and virtual school and the various challenges of the year, this year has been quite the year for exploring and understanding and learning not only about the diverse inequities that exist in Washington state but also a year for exploring what it means to be a teacher and how to best serve students across the aisles. It has also been about wanting to transform society with education and pedagogy and the challenges and opportunities that presents us with. It’s definitely been a year.
About the Author
Ethan C Smith is an educator, adventurer, and thinker who is passionate about education, ecology, and social class. He happens to also spend a great deal of time reading and thinking about history, literature, philosophy, music, the future, and coffee.