All over social media – and beyond – people are breathlessly counting down the days until the end of 2020. Like four-year-olds who engage in magical thinking, we’re imagining life will miraculously improve at the stroke of midnight on December 31st. And who could blame us? It’s been a singularly difficult year. I’ve never lived through one even remotely like it…and I’ve been around a long time!

Teachers, sadly, have been among those most impacted in 2020. Here in my own county, for example, due to the pandemic, public school teachers were at first told they would follow a hybrid model: some days teaching in person and the others virtually. They were later told all teaching would be virtual. Later still, the plan was to go back to the classroom. But the day before they were to do so, because of a rise in the number of infections, teachers were informed remote learning would continue.

How does a teacher keep up with that? How does she plan for it? Teachers must feel as though they have whiplash! They literally don’t know whether they’re coming or going!

Nine months ago, when the children were first sent home, I was pleased to see that teachers were finally receiving the respect they deserved. As parents struggled to teach their children, it seemed everyone was offering up effusive praise for the work teachers do on a regular basis. Television producer Shonda Rhimes, after just a couple of weeks of homeschooling her two young children, declared that teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a week!

Fast-forward a couple of months and all too often teachers are once again taken for granted. In some areas where the learning is remote, parents demand that teachers go back to the classroom, COVID be damned. In many cases, they’re required to teach exactly as they did in the classroom, even though it’s impossible and unacceptable for virtual and live classrooms to function in the same way. Teachers are putting in more and more hours just to keep up, seemingly with little consideration to the toll the extra work is taking on them. Once again it’s assumed that their love for children is compensation enough for the hard work they do.

It’s no wonder teachers asked me to relaunch my online course on burnout and self-care!

If you’ve been reading my work for a while, you know that I’m all for a revolution in education. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I agree with the colleague who suggested teachers have for too long complied when told just to shut up and do their jobs. Why should teachers have no say in how they teach? Why is their knowledge so often ignored? They should have a seat at the table every time decisions are being made about a topic in which they have expertise!

Since the pandemic began, it’s been my hope that it would signal the end of an education system that is not developmentally appropriate and does not take into consideration the way children learn. I’ve hoped that parents would begin to see the value of play, and to understand the connection between play and learning.

And I’ve hoped – and continue to hope – that teachers will just say no to the nonsense! It’s time for those of us in early childhood education to take a stand. To refuse to teach in ways that not only fail to truly teach, but that also harm the children.

Of the books I’ve written, my two favorites have titles asking questions beginning with the same words that start the title of this post: What If. So, I’m going to ask some questions here that also begin with those same words.

  • What if we banded together and determined to teach only in ways that benefit children?
  • What if we insisted on a seat at the table?
  • What if we determined to do everything we can to educate parents, administrators, and policymakers about the importance of play and active learning in early childhood?
  • What if we made a commitment to joyful learning because it’s the only kind of learning children were meant to experience?

At the end of some of my presentations, I invite participants to stand, place their hand over their heart, and take “the pledge.” I offer it here as food for thought and, perhaps, inspiration and motivation for 2021.

I pledge:

to recognize children as thinking, feeling, moving human beings;

to educate the whole child; and

to stand by what I know to be right for children!

If all of us early childhood professionals take the pledge – and refuse to comply when told, figuratively or literally, to just shut up and do our job – we could gain much more control in the coming year. And if we band together to stand by what we know to be right for the children…well, it’s a win-win for both the children and for us!

Coming soon: a new online course with simple strategies for becoming a champion for play and joyful learning! Stay tuned!

Rae Pica
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