What if I don’t want things to go back to normal?

I saw a Facebook post this morning that said:

It’s a cute play on words. And I get it, people long for things to go back to “normal.” But in my opinion, normal has definitely shifted, maybe even changed completely, and I don’t think it is a bad thing.

From the perspective of an educator, things cannot and should not go back to “normal.” This pandemic must force schools to think about how they educate students.

During our six weeks of distance learning, I witnessed some students thriving, and of course, others who simply could not function with so much change and scary uncertainty. When given a quick Google form survey at the end of the school year, some even said they would prefer to continue with online learning in the fall while some of them desperately wanted to be with their friends.

If we go back to “normal” school in my district, the option to learn online is not part of that definition.

But why not?

What would happen to education if there really were less students in a classroom because we alternate days or shifts of students in the building? Or support and help facilitate those students in our district who prefer to learn at home?

I witnessed some incredible growth among some students those few weeks during our emergency remote learning. I was impressed and inspired by the work and engagement by some of my students, some of whom I recall feeling as if I had to pull teeth and/or be a ginormous nag in person. Some students thrive in a learning environment that is not like our traditional classrooms, and why is that often considered bad or not good enough?

Might an “abnormal”–or should I say inventive–school schedule actually allow for more learning as well as give more time and attention to address trauma with our students? Maybe “normal” in schools means no more rushing to push every single standard into students’ heads with the need of doing well on standardized tests. Instead, without the weeks spent on testing, we would have more time to explore these standards deeply, looking for ways to creatively engage students in critical thinking.

Kids absolutely need social interaction, but who says it needs to look like what schools were before the pandemic? We get so used to what our comfortable “normal” is that we forget that it is usually in discomfort where we learn the most.

Speaking of discomfort, schools must address the inequities and systemic racism that exists. This is not the time to hope that the virus disappears or a miracle vaccine is created within the next month so we can go back to business as usual. OK, yes, I hope the virus disappears and a vaccine is created because it is freaking scary, but if and when the virus isn’t a huge concern anymore, racism still is, and we cannot go back to “normal.” For the future of our children and our country, we just can’t.

The unrest that is is pulsing through our country right now does not bother me the way it may others. I am rooting for this discomfort. Part me is ready for us to burn it all down and start fresh, metaphorically of course.

At the same time, I am anxious and exhausted thinking about what the fall will look like as a teacher and as a parent. I don’t know what the right thing to do is. My fierce urge to protect my family couples with the strong desire to see revolution. To see a transformation in how we view education, in how we define education.

Change from our normal can be as freaking scary as this virus, but right now it is essential. Regardless of whether we are worried about the spread of a horrific virus or the continuing support a racist education system, change has to happen. Not only to keep us safe and healthy, but to fix what is fundamentally broken in our systems and in our structures.

7 Replies to “What if I don’t want things to go back to normal?”

  1. You had me at “rant.” Maybe because I love the rhetorical moves in a good rant.? Yes, to every word: “ We get so used to what our comfortable “normal” is that we forget that it is usually in discomfort where we learn the most.” I can’t help but think one person’s comfort is another’s discomfort. What we’re hearing in this demands to return to “normal” is privilege, and it’s mostly white privilege. Something must change, and it should first be a dismantling of racist education structures. You’re not alone in sometimes thinking “let’s burn it all down.” Excellent rant. Hope to hear more from you.

  2. I love that opening “Julyed” quote and happened to be thinking along these very same lines as I wrote today: “Regardless of whether we are worried about the spread of a horrific virus or… a racist education system, change has to happen. Not only to keep us safe and healthy, but to fix what is fundamentally broken in our systems and in our structures.” – yes. There must be a new normal. Real reform will take time, work, and a lot – a LOT – of dialogue (and yes, there’s so much needed that it IS exhausting to think about…I’m there). But it has to happen and can be done – collectively. Thank you for your words.

  3. “ Change from our normal can be as freaking scary as this virus, but right now it is essential. ”
    You hit the nail on the head. We really have to rethink everything.

  4. I just came from reading Fran Haley’s post “We Can’t Go Back” to your post. There’s definitely a connection. I agree with you that we need to reevaluate so much of what we accepted as part of “normal” — in education and in our society. It’s a time for honest reflection and hard work.

  5. I’m worried about going back to “normal” too. There is a lot that needs to be changed and this might be the right time to do at least some of it. I think a lot of people (teachers included) will be clinging on to the “known” and resist making some really important changes.

  6. “Maybe “normal” in schools means no more rushing to push every single standard into students’ heads with the need of doing well on standardized tests.” As I read this, I couldn’t help but wonder if… before covid-19, we had all been forced to work a “normal” that really wasn’t normal at for our students. Maybe this time will serve decision makers to rethink what had been in the past considered “normal.”

    Great post!

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