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JAMIL RAGLAND

I was working as a third-grade teacher when the coronavirus pandemic started. I’ve worked in schools in one capacity or another since I was 18, but nothing I experienced was as stressful as the transition from in-person school to online teaching. Students, teachers and parents were thrown into a new method of learning with only two weeks of lead time. In the background was a pandemic that was killing hundreds of people a day.

So you know what I did? I took it easy on my kids. If they did their work, I looked at it and provided feedback. If they didn’t, no big deal. It didn’t make much sense to harp on crossing T’s and dotting I’s during a literal fight for survival. Many of my colleagues agreed, and it led to a major change in grading policy across the state: no students would fail the 2019-2020 school year.

With Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona moving to Washington as the next Secretary of Education, Connecticut will need a new statewide education leader. Our next leader should extend the moratorium on failing students through the end of the 2021 school year.

I say this because of my firsthand experience as a teacher during the pandemic, and as a parent. My son’s mother, stepdad and sister all recently contracted COVID-19 despite the precautions they took. For a month, we all existed under the pall that one of them, or all of them, could get very sick.

During that month, I really didn’t give a damn about whether my son did his school work. I was too focused on the idea that my son might also catch the virus and die. Afterward, I wasn’t interested in making him catch up on all of that missed work, either.

For what? What is an “A” worth under these conditions? Or an “F”?

Schools are full of pointless busywork on the best days. Why should I add to the pressure my son by faced by making him do all the pointless busywork he missed while caring for his mother?

Almost 6,000 Connecticut residents have died since March from COVID-19. How many of our children in school are grieving loved ones? We have no idea. How many of their family members survived, but only after our kids watched them suffer through the ordeal? Or are helping them manage long-term health issues as a result of their infection? Again, no clue. It frankly seems cruel to fail students who are living under these conditions.

Teaching was so stressful that I quit. But students don’t have that option. In fact, there has been endless hand-wringing about the lack of participation from students during online classes. The phrase that students are “falling behind” permeates the discussion about learning in the 2020-2021 school year.

I suggest that students aren’t falling behind. Instead, they’re surviving a pandemic. One which, despite constant assurances to the contrary, does in fact affect children – over one million so far. So let’s shelve the conversations about learning loss and the deficiency-laden language that will mark our children for years.

There is one important lesson that this year will teach students, and it’s not about history or politics. It’s about us – the adults in their lives who are charged with their protection. Are we responding to the overwhelming challenge of this moment with compassion and care, or are we simply modifying old systems to barely soldier on?

How we treat our kids now is how they will treat their children when their own moment of crisis arrives. Let’s use school for its highest ideals and purpose then, to teach our kids how to respond to the death which surrounds them now. Let’s continue taking it easy on them.

Jamil Ragland writes and lives in East Hartford. You can read more of his writing at www.nutmeggerdaily.com.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.