About Thomas Courtney

Thomas Courtney is a senior policy fellow with Teach Plus, a member of Edsource's Advisory Committee, and author of many articles on educational curriculum and policy. He is also a fifth-grade teacher, guide teacher, and father of a child at a Title 1 school in southeast San Diego.  

If I’m being honest, not everyone understood the concept of reversing Halloween at first.

But I was convinced the theory was sound.

And perhaps because I’ve known how disconnected my own daughter feels, I’ve tried to find creative ways to connect with families. I’ve formed friendships with dogs, left a lot of things on doorsteps. I’ve even won a few skateboard races, all while wearing a mask and social distancing.

Okay, maybe one skateboard race.

These moments have re-energized many learners, helped us forge bonds with parents and kids that Zoom doesn’t allow, and created a chance for parents to engage with real (albeit slightly eccentric) human beings. And then about a week ago a shadowy depression fell over our ten-year-olds like a San Diego early morning fog.

“I can’t trick-or-treat,” wrote Jacob in the chat. Soon a long line of me toos appeared below it.

We told them to focus on work. I mean it’s not like Mr. Courtney can let you excuse your score on a math exam just because you can’t trick-or-treat this year. It’s not like it’s okay to forget to submit that essay because you can’t slime your principal at the Harvest Festival or because you’ve lost trick-or-treating this year.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t get it.

And that’s when I decided to reverse Halloween. And because my student teacher, Rachel Petrivelli, couldn’t help herself, she came too.

October 31st, 10 am. 

Students watch on Zoom–dressed up themselves– as my student teacher and I begin to drive through the neighborhood. I place the phone on the dash. I can see kids excitedly talking with their parents.

“Ms. Petrivelli, I know where you are!” Says Bianca*.

A few moments later, we’ve arrived at our first destination. The green peppers are really coming along in the Salazar family garden.

“Trick or treat,” Rachel and I say as we wait for Johny to come to the door. She is dressed like a “smart cookie,” and I am dressed like Cookie Monster. My dog Oreo, who needed out of the house too, has come along for the ride.

Our class calls themselves the Cookie Ninjas in case you were wondering. You know how us teachers love our themes.

Out walks Johny who shakes his head as if this is all in his imagination.  His dog, Clementine, as per usual wags his tail and greets Oreo.

Johny*, who is smiling ear to ear, is now holding his candy bag by the curb. His other hand is waving to us as we drive away. Our first sanitized delivery of candy is made. Reverse Halloween, where we deliver the candy to you, has now begun.

11 am

“Trick or Treat,” we say after ringing Kailany’s doorbell.

Her mother comes to the front with her candy bowl. “Mr. Courtney, is that you?” She asks.

Rachel says through her mask that the idea is for us to bring candy to the door this time.

“Really?” She says.

“Yeah, see it’s reverse Halloween,” I say hoping for a sign she gets it. It’s hard to tell through masks.

Kailany* is in pizza pajamas, so she gets the bag with a candy pizza.

How’s that for thematic instruction?

11:30 am

            Jacob*’s mother, “Cookie”, is well known at Chollas-Mead. With her often brightly dyed hair, she’s a bit of a Chollas-Mead tradition herself. We knew how seriously and understandably she has worried about the pandemic, so we made sure that Jacob stayed in the house with his siblings. Cookie is cracking up. I know she gets reverse Halloween.

On the way to Andres’s house, we pass by a local church on 47th street. A few smiling and friendly ladies are waiting curbside to give treats to kids who stop.

“See, we aren’t the only one!” Rachel says.

1 pm

Twenty-three houses later, and we’ve delivered bags of candy safely to just about everyone in the class.

But then we get a text from Thai*.

“Mr. Courtney! Ms. P! I’m sorry I couldn’t answer! Will you come back? I want to show you my costume!”

And of course, we did.

And on the way back, both old educators and new educators alike realize that reverse Halloween was a success and that people did get it. Why? Because kids like Thai right now need to show the world that they are still here, costume and all. And families need teachers to show them that we are here too.

And we want our amazing Chollas-Mead families to know that we are here, and we will be. And that when it’s safe next year, feel free to reverse a few Reese’s right onto Mr. Courtney’s desk.

Hopefully, the idea of Reverse Halloween has really caught on by then.

Right kids?

 

Thomas Courtney is a fifth-grade teacher at Chollas-Mead Elementary School, where kids, families, and teachers all swim as one.

Rachel Petrivelli is a student-teacher with San Diego State University who has volunteered to teach both online and in-person during SDUSD’s phase one of returning kids back to schools.

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