September 12, 2020 Submitted by June Gustafson, President, Hingham Education Association
To Members of the Hingham Community,
As president of the Hingham Education Association (HEA), I keep hearing that the HEA is creating a roadblock to the reopening of our schools. This is simply not true! What we all want is the safest return to teaching and learning. Teachers have spent the summer worrying, not just about school but updating their wills, insurance policies, and sadly, looking into funeral arrangements. Not a typical summer at all!
First, every single educator wants to return to school the way it was when we left on March 12 but, unfortunately, that is not possible. School, and therefore our jobs, will change drastically. Under Massachusetts General Law 150, changes in working conditions are subject to impact bargaining. And the changes are vast! We are, along with Dr. Austin and the School Committee following the law to work out an agreement that will be most safe for all, including our students. Bear in mind, the working conditions of the HEA are the learning conditions of the students, your children. In terms of the timeline, the HEA reminded the district administration on July 7 about the right to bargain and made a formal request on July 21. The two sides have met 7 times since then, and continue to negotiate in good faith.
Without going into the weeds, I want to address some of the changes that will happen, beginning with remote learning. After the shock of the closure, we were on Apollo 13 and adapting as we went along. It was crisis teaching, not remote teaching! As we have now had time to reflect, we know we will do better when we return to that model during the upcoming school year.
As someone who has attended nearly every meeting offered from the RRAC to community coffees, I kept hearing the phrase ‘30,000 foot’ view. Educators don’t operate at cruise control at a high altitude, and we cannot be on automatic pilot. We are on the runway, at ground level. We are responsible for the safety of our students, along with the delivery of instruction. Just like the workings of a jumbo jet coming in for a landing, deplaning, and mechanicals, our jobs are complex and detailed, and student safety is our utmost priority. The best teachers make it look so easy, it is the proverbial tip of the iceberg, 90% of teaching occurs below the surface and outside of the classroom. The amount of planning, then the execution of the plans, and the feedback/assessment loop, are incredibly time consuming.
We appreciate the time that went into the plans and were grateful to have had a role in the process but as the plans were rolled out (prior to the impact bargaining taking place), we knew that we would be responsible for ironing out the details that need to occur at ground level. And there are hundreds of them! And as optimistic as I want to be about teaching full time with everyone back, we must prepare for remote learning, as additional waves of the virus are being predicted. That is why the 10 days of professional development are essential to do better if we need to pivot back.
The impact of safety and space requirements for the classroom is profound. Between the social distancing required, the inability to share materials, and provided group/partner work, we know that our students will need devices to use while they are in person. All of our lessons will need to be adapted and revised to reflect this. Also in the hybrid plan, is the idea that we can teach in person and to a remote class at the same time. Every educator I know relies on non verbal cues from our students, I have joked with my students that I have eyes in the back of my head but even that second set of eyes cannot allow me to manage the students in front of me, as well as students on the screen. Libby Lewicki from the school committee demonstrated this on the night of the plan’s vote. Some people found this amusing but it is a stunning reality that we will be faced with. Good classroom management is not just redirecting students, it is the ability to know, just by a quick glance, who is understanding and who is not. Also a concern is student safety and privacy of our students, your children. Furthermore we will be masked, making it extremely difficult for those at home to understand what we are teaching or speaking about.
Many of us love doing group work in our classes, some of our classes have been called noisy, busy, energetic, and we are fine with that. Conversations, ideas, even disagreements among student groups is a form of learning and of assessment. That will be minimized this year, as group and partner work will be needed to be done electronically, even while in the classrooms.
Classrooms are sacred places. They are where students learn to be independent, can make mistakes without the judging eyes of their families, where kids make lifelong connections to topics, to peers, to adults. They are also, particularly in the early grades, a place where a student forms their first ideas about school. We worry that our young students will find school to be one with such stringent rules about safety,one that they will associate with anxiety and possibly fear.
Which brings me to my final topic: fear. Many of us are afraid, be it for our personal health, the health of our families and loved ones, some of whom have serious medical conditions that Covid exposure could be fatal, some of us are the sole caregivers of elderly parents, as well as our children, the lack of childcare and different district schedules (not all of us live in Hingham) have kept the HEA members sleepless and worried this entire summer. Beyond our personal families, we also fear for our school families, our students, your families, and our colleagues.
We expect there will be mistakes made, even failure (which we consider one of the greatest teachers of all time). Teachers need patience and grace. The 30,000 foot plan is out of cruise control, we are landing the plane, runway crews are standing by. We need to ensure safety, we have a solid tripartite phased-in approach learning plan, and are preparing to bring joy to our most important passengers, our students. Negotiations are a component of mitigating concerns. It’s part of preparing for the smoothest landing and journey in these pandemic skies.
June Gustafson, President, Hingham Education Association