Instructional Coach, Kate Stevens, Challenges The Myth of a Lost Year

On March 12th, 2020 I locked my classroom door, walked down the hallway, and out of my high school building in Detroit for the last time. Like many other teachers, I was plunged into a world journalists, parents, politicians, and even educational experts were already referring to as “the lost year.” A year of:

  • Expectations for delivering content and engaging students that changed and became more convoluted daily…
  • Watching students who, despite their constant use of technology, do not know how to use it to learn in a traditional way and/or do not have consistent access to wifi or high quality devices…
  • Being overcome with worry and grief for the students who lost parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends…

Meanwhile, in staff meetings, we were still discussing how many grades we should be putting in the gradebook and what actually counts as “attendance.” It utterly broke my heart, and I knew that I would never return to the classroom as it exists today, virtually or in person.

I was, however, committed and driven to continue serving the students and families of Detroit. My career search led me to CollegeSpring, where as an Instructional Coach I partner with the Detroit Public Schools Community District teachers to build site level capacity as they deliver our Test Confidence™ based SAT preparation curriculum. Each day I bear witness to the enormity of upheaval that teachers and students are surviving. Teachers are in trauma response mode, and as often happens in education, particularly in under-resourced schools, they are courageously facing a blazing inferno with only a hand-held fire extinguisher.

It is easy to understand why outlets such as the Washington Post, CBS news, and even the Christian Science Monitor started referring to this as a “lost year.” Many teachers are woefully underprepared to deliver content through online learning management systems and virtual platforms. Students struggle to engage in remote learning, or simply maintain a routine for “doing school” at home. In fact, in Detroit, many young people are working to support their household, supervising and/or sharing devices with younger siblings, or simply unmotivated and sleeping through class because they have lost the few parts of school that brought value and security to their lives…if any ever did.

When we refer to something as “lost” we have given up on it completely. It is for this reason that I take great issue with any adult professional referring to this as a “lost year.” There is a reason why we refer to a child as “missing” when they cannot be found; because the word “lost” implies that all options for locating them have been exhausted.

Our job as educators, legislators, parents, and community leaders is to ensure positive outcomes for ALL children, so we should not collectively apply the word “lost” to this year for two reasons:

  1. There should be no attempt to return to the existing norms established in education leading up to this pandemic since they were woefully inadequate in terms of quality, equity, and adaptability to begin with.
  2. Educators have not nearly exhausted all possible solutions for helping students through this time, nor have we even truly begun to use our learnings to drive widespread educational innovation.

At CollegeSpring, we believe that Challenges are Opportunities; it’s one of the core values that drive our work. I believe education experts must be driven by the growth mindset that the execution of this value requires. This means that we ask questions which, if answered, will allow our teachers and students the opportunity to adapt and thrive:

  • Can we use testing to evaluate student needs, to determine resource allocation, and to increase accessibility to postsecondary opportunities –rather than as a high stakes stressor for students and an inaccurate metric of teacher and building level success?
  • How has the pandemic shed light on racial inequity in education, and where does anti-racist work fit into our educational trajectory?
  • What has this pandemic taught us about the socio-emotional needs of students, or the value that different students place on education and WHY?

This pandemic has been the single biggest challenge we have faced in a century, and highlights how a complete paradigm shift truly is overdue in the world of education. For those of us who work in the world of teacher support, this means that we must rise to the challenge of being facilitators and problem solvers while still maintaining empathy, patience, and understanding. Instead of viewing this year as “lost,” we must mine for the practical skills and resilience both students and teachers have gained during this time and use them to blaze a new way forward.