By James Welch
As a teacher, COVID-19 has sharpened my perspective professionally. It has made me a more vocal advocate for revamping education and dismantling old systems that do not work for every student. For me, this pandemic has highlighted just how big the disparities are between certain groups of kids. When some of your students can’t access the Internet, it really makes you think, “We have a grave problem with education in this country.”
The learning gap has persisted for decades, and now is the prime time to peel back the layers and ask questions. What is the cause of this disparity? Why is it that Black and Latinx students are the students who are behind? Why is this the case when they are in the same classrooms with the same teachers using the same curriculum? Are we not providing our families with enough support? Are we not training our teachers well enough? Are we not holding them accountable for the training that they receive?
As I ask these questions of others, I have also been challenged to re-examine my own practices and philosophy around teaching: What can I do? Even if my school system does not change a single thing, how am I going to be different when I show up to teach? How will the experience I give my students benefit them?
Being African American informs my approach as well; it’s just who I am. During the pandemic, I have felt the unspoken limitations that some parents put on me because of my race. Throughout distance learning, some parents tried to challenge what I was doing—they didn’t do that in the classroom, but during distance learning, I began to notice their scrutiny. At the same time, some of my colleagues did not get that same level of criticism. What parents may not have realized is that the things I was doing were created by my grade-level and my team. This experience highlighted for me that race still plays a part in the classroom for teachers as well as students.
We have a lot of work to do, and we need to dig a little deeper and not be afraid of what we find. We must have a greater impact in more students’ lives, and level the playing field for them in the process. As teachers, we are the people in charge. We are the ones in the trenches. It is up to us to make some changes and they need to be made now, before the new school year begins. We need to walk into the challenges of this new environment with a fresh mindset for the benefit of ALL our students.
James Welch is a Teacher Trainer with the Flamboyan Foundation in Washington, DC.