Teaching From Home Graphic

I don’t like to think of myself as someone who holds a grudge, but I’ve been thinking a lot recently about a great injustice from 20 years ago. 

It was 10th grade driver’s ed, and my instructor was a renowned coach whose very name would probably still send shivers down the spines of local rivals. He gave us an assignment at the end of the semester wherein we were supposed to write an argumentative essay about whether having a driver’s license was a right or a privilege. He told us that we would get extra credit points if we typed up the essay.

Not to brag, but I didn’t need the extra credit.

Imagine my surprise and horror when I went to pick up my essay and saw that it had received a “B.” When I confronted this legendary coach to ask him about the grade, he said “You didn’t type it.” 

See, it turns out he saw the desire for extra credit to be the discerning line between the “B” student and the “A” student. In other words, he had secret criteria for success that he didn’t share with me until I had failed to meet them. And, although I’m definitely not someone who holds a grudge, I do hold onto a little bit of resentment. And I learned a lesson about clarity and transparency that continues to guide my standards for myself as an educator.

It’s a lesson that I wish more people, especially people involved in policy and communication around this pandemic and consequent shutdown, had learned.

Eleven months ago, when LBUSD closed its campuses, the question on the mind of every teacher, staff member, student, and parent was a simple one: When? How long would the shutdown last? When would we be safely back in our classrooms, safely back with our students, happily back in our routine? 

The answers to these questions have changed multiple times since then. Besides our handful of tentative re-opening dates announced by the district, those of us eagerly waiting for news have also dealt with rumors and theories, as well as the angry blame game playing out on social media. 

The truth is that the rules and criteria for re-opening keep shifting, and the people in charge of making our policy locally — whether at our school site, at the district level, or in the city — aren’t usually the ones in control of the shifts. They’re waiting, like the rest of us, for state and county guidelines, sometimes finding out about changes at the same time the rest of us do.

The lack of clarity and transparency has been fuel for anxiety and anger. We’re all trying to do the right thing, and we’re working hard to maintain positive and constructive attitudes. But when the goal posts keep moving, it’s hard to feel like we’re all in this together. Are we waiting to flatten the curve? Is it the tier system? If so, which tier system? Are we listening to our city health officials? Or is it the county? Or the state? Are we waiting until it’s safe, or until we’re all vaccinated, or until we have the logistical capability to test and trace and disinfect? Or are we re-opening because we, as a society, are tired of being closed? Or are we not re-opening at all?

This Monday, Los Angeles County supervisor Janice Hahn tweeted out a declaration that elementary schools would be cleared to open the following day. She based this declaration on the county reaching the case rate “threshold” for re-opening, a standard the state’s Department of Public Health instituted in January — the third criteria (by my count) to have been named this school year. 

The response to the tweet from school officials across the county was confusion and frustration. It seems as if many of them were learning about this new data from her tweet, which provided no explanation or context beyond the declaration. Now they’re put into the position of responding to demands for answers from their employees and families, because, once again, they’re finding out about changes after they’ve already happened.

Both as a parent of an elementary school student and a teacher eagerly awaiting news about my own responsibilities going forward, this lack of clarity is exhausting and anxiety-inducing. It’s not fair to anyone, especially those of us trying to do the right thing for our families and our students, to allow the lines of communication to become clouded with rumor and speculation.

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