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I recently read an article on Politico where a group of “30 smart macro thinkers” recently contemplated how the Coronavirus will change the world. While many of their thoughts are far too Shangri-La and delusionally optimistic, it got me thinking about how this pandemic will change education – with 8 big questions I pose, and, in a separate article, 8 bold statements that will ring true for teachers in a Post-COVID-19 world.

8 Big Questions:

  1. Is testing essential?
    I love the podcast Truth For Teachers by Angela Watson, who so deftly balances honesty and integrity with her words. In her episode from last week (“Schools Are Closed – This Is Our Chance to Re-Imagine Them“), Watson shares that part of the silver lining in our social melee is we get to measure the value of standardized tests. As Pres. Trump provided the ability for states to cancel them (on March 20th), Watson challenges us in asking are they really all that essential? Do we need to go back to them when normal returns?
  2. How essential are teachers?
    In a similar vein to Watson’s thoughts, my biggest worry when “normal” returns is how many school districts will ask how essential teachers are. I’ve always been interested in the growing Artificial Intelligence movement across the world, and, full nerd confession here, have input my profession into every AI coding algorithm to see how replaceable I am (like Will Robots Take My Job?), but that was just true and blue abstract thought. We’re in a concrete world where budget cuts, as I mentioned in the sister article, will lead to some very difficult decisions for boards to make. Will there be more Khan Academy or similar platforms to offer systemic instruction? Will decision-makers wonder “do we really need ___ teacher?” or “how many kids can a teacher instruct?”
  3. Will kids love online learning, or miss in-person instruction?
    When I was walking around my neighborhood with my 2- and 4-year-old boys, we saw an 8th-grade student who lives on the same street as me shooting hoops in front of his house. He talked about how much he misses the social interaction and doesn’t think that online instruction will be as efficient or beneficial. But the big question, Times Higher Ed asks, is will the biggest thing to go viral besides COVID-19 be online education? Also, how many families will move their kids from brick-and-mortar schools who are building the distance learning airplane while flying it to charter schools who already have it in place? No studies have yet shared the shifting population trends to these schools, but common sense would tell us they’re on the increase.
  4. How much difficulty did students face at home during this time?
    Part of what I miss most is the regular interaction with students. Any teacher worth their own weight will tell you some of the best lessons they’ve taught have little to nothing to do with the actual curriculum. Sometimes I head down on the desk or a curt reply tips us off to something larger being wrong at home, and if we have the bonds with the students that we hope, we could help unravel that mystery and get them help. That’s largely absent right now. In fact, as I reached out to all my students and asked for some input from them, of the 40% who reached out to me, a handful of them talked about how they’re struggling with dealing with their problems, or dealing with a family whom they’d rather not bunker-down with. As the Pennsylvania Capital-Star points out, kids are at a much higher risk for abuse – and we’re not as present as we’d like to be to support them in this new normal.
  5. How will the job of support educators change, especially school nurses?
    There are so many questions that non-instructional staff will have regarding their new roles. Will school nurses be expected to treat students with COVID-19 and other worrisome strains? To what extent will they need to ensure 100% hygiene, and how much of the concern is warranted vs. new bureaucratic hoops to jump? How about occupational therapists? School counselors? Special education teachers meeting IEP goals and holding evaluations and meetings with parents?
  6. When will we stop “closing the door?”
    You’ve heard about your colleague who hears about the newest-new at school and just “closes their door so they can teach.” They often become disconnected from their peers and don’t visit other teachers’ classrooms. Part of that mindset is what got us here – we’ve become so independent and disconnected from one another that the concern of me-first is what led to grocers being bereft of toilet paper — of all things. Will we stop taking one another for granted? Will we step up and help others who are struggling in the post-COVID-19 world, from the kid in our class to their parents who lost their job or their business? And will we no longer take our colleagues for granted?
  7. How will this impact students in the short- and long-terms?
    Politico‘s Nicole Gaudino wrote an article titled “The Lost School Year,” and in it, she declared, “all schools will suffer.” The when and how much on the suffering scale, however, will vary from district to district. With the cut in standardized testing, will we miss the data in driving decisions? What about the lost proms? Graduations? College classes? Internship opportunities? Sports schedules? Lack of social interaction? Teacher mentorship? How much will students – especially those who will receive very little educational support at home – regress? What will we do with the students who are MIA from their online education – like the 40,000 Los Angeles students who don’t check in every day, or the 15,000 who have yet to begin their online studies?
  8. Will the COVID-19 return in the fall?
    I have about 150 quotes hanging in my classroom, and one of my favorites is by professor Joseph Wittreich, who stated “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.” Forgive my comparison to the horrific and catastrophic 1918 Flu Pandemic (historically misnomered as “The Spanish Flu”) in which 50-100 million people died, but we’re going to be comparing these strains plenty over the course of the next few months. The biggest and boldest question, however, is will COVID-19 return in the fall, just as the 1918 pandemic did in 1919 – and become much more deadly? As soldiers traveled the world to fight in The Great War (World War I), the virus mutated in them and caused a curve they tried to suppress to become a “W,” with the high spike in the middle in the beginning of flu season that year. Will COVID-19 follow a similar trajectory, or will we be able to put it to rest like Ebola, H1N1, and SARs?

Teaching in a post-COVID-19 world isn’t all questions. Click here to see 8 bold statements I believe belie the future of education.

Please also consider reading my colleague Adam Sutton’s article on “The Ideal School Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic” as a great guide for our current situation.


Mr. Jake Miller is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year, a 2017 NEA Global...

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1 Comment

  1. April 1, 2021 you should revisit this article. Some of these questions have answers- and there are plenty of new questions.

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