The Big Picture.

September 10, 2020
  • By: Katey Kamoku

    Some days my live-in-the-moment kids and never ending to-do list keep the fear of an unknown future at bay. Other days, the weight of this global pandemic feels like a ton of bricks sitting square on my shoulders. As a mom of 2 school agers and 2 preschoolers and an out-of-work-because-of-covid preschool teacher, the uneasiness of the looming school year is staring me straight in the eyes. I have a Masters degree in education and yet I don’t feel qualified to facilitate my own kids’ distance learning journeys. Schools not only support communities by educating our future labor force, but also by allowing parents to attend to their own careers. Much of the structure that schools provided disappeared, and we were left reeling. With the 2020-21 school year imminent, parents are left grappling with the logistics, confusion and frustration of supporting their children in distance learning. While I share those feelings, I am here to say there is hope. I want to share some perspective of the bigger picture, and I hope this will ease some fear and frustration about the job we all need to do, ready or not. 

    Why do we send our children to school? What is it we hope they learn? When we ask parents of preschoolers this question as their 3 year old is beginning their school career, almost every single parent has the same answer. They want their child to gain social skills, to make friends, to wrap their little heads around a school schedule and the expectations of a classroom. Sure, a few mention the ABC’s and 123’s, but mostly they want their child to gain social skills and learn how to learn. But as our kids enter formal schooling, our goals for them become more focused on content. What is their reading level? Have they memorized their multiplication table? Can they regurgitate dates in history? It seems as if the older our children get, the less we see the bigger picture. The more we want them to retain facts and details, the less we see the point of an education. What is the cause of this shift? Is it standardized testing? The long term goal of a “good” college education? The parental instinct to set our children on a path society calls “successful”? I don’t have the answer, and I don’t think there is one answer. But I do know one thing. Educators today are preparing students for many jobs that do not yet exist. Technology is developing rapidly and expectations are changing even faster. What do educators need to do now to prepare students for a future we can barely imagine? It won’t be reading levels, multiplication tables, and memorization of dates. 

    I have always admired teachers. I had some amazing ones growing up and in my first “real” job as a special education assistant, some wonderful teachers inspired me to go back to school to be just like them. Over the years some of my most trusted friends are also teachers. Since the Coronavirus pandemic began in March, I have been witness to the marvel that is an educator, both as a parent and as a fellow teacher. I will be forever grateful to teachers for helping me, my children, and the children in my community find some normalcy in this mess of a year. And as we kick off another school year in our virtual learning bubble, we feel heartache about what our children are missing, doubt in our ability to help facilitate distance learning, and ambivalence about balancing our childrens’ needs with our own needs. But there is hope!

    Just as they did before this pandemic, teachers aren’t looking for perfection and uniformity from their students. They are looking for individual growth and development of a love for learning and discovery. Of course they follow state educational standards and assign workloads based on the district prescribed curriculum, but that is not the essence of what teachers want their students to leave their classroom (physical or virtual) with. Dig deep into a teacher’s heart and see more powerful, more meaningful and more valuable skills and insight they want your children to internalize. Educators are working tirelessly to teach their students to love learning and discovery, to be creative in how they approach solutions to problems, to use critical thinking skills to digest information, to nurture their natural empathy to see the world from a variety of perspectives, and to build a sense of connectedness with the people in their community and the world. That is the big picture.

    To confirm my belief that teachers aren’t looking for precision, regurgitation, or sameness, some local teachers I know made time to share with me their overarching goals for their students. These are quotes from elementary, middle, and high school teachers, some of whom have been teaching for decades. Here’s what they had to say: 

    I hope my students leave me knowing themselves as learners.  They know their strengths and that they need to be kind to themselves as they work through hard things.”

    “My goal for our students is to help them realize their greatness!  I want to help them realize that we all have many strengths and the potential to do amazing things! I want students to not only remember what I teach them, but more importantly how I made them feel. Children are creative and have a wonderful enthusiasm for learning new things so I want to encourage them to become life-long learners!”

    “I want my students to be happy and successful in their adult lives navigating the real world after high school! I want them to have confidence in their abilities and know what tools and strategies they have to help them succeed.”

    “My main goals for my students are to understand the world in as many ways as they can, to communicate their understanding, and to improve upon what they experience. For example, if kids are exploring nature, I want them to use all their senses and all the information they already have to form questions and seek answers. I want them to be able to effectively communicate what they think and know, and to figure out how they can maintain that natural space or make it better. I think so many qualities come into play here: Curiosity, organization, motivation, and effort, just to name a few. I think a teacher’s or parent’s job is to offer experiences, join in the wondering, and provide support if things get hard.”

    As we face an unprecedented and unknown length of time to help facilitate our childrens’ education, my hope for you is to remember the big picture. Missed Zoom calls, “perfectly” completed assignments and comparisons among peers are not what will make an actual difference in the grand scheme of your child’s life. Please appreciate that being one of your child’s teachers is a rare honor. Keep front and center your overarching goals for your child: Happiness; Problem solving skills; Curiosity; Creativity; Empathy; Critical thinking skills; Meaningful connections; Our kids are resilient and adaptable. They can do this, and you can too. 

    In solidarity, Katey

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