A teacher’s perspective: Rebuilding normalcy with a growth mindset (Op-Ed)

Spanish teacher and parent Tiffany Karow responds to calls from parents to reopen and provides her take on the proposed hybrid return.

The looming hybrid phase of our distance learning journey has left me feeling compelled to respond to the sentiments I have seen expressed throughout the year during Board meetings, in The Talon’s articles and in District correspondence.

I don’t think anything will ultimately change the “Open the Schools!” position some parents take, but I am hopeful that these insights might lead to more thoughtful discussions in the broader Los Altos High School community where values such as compassion, courage, kindness and perhaps even some selflessness guide us into the next phase.

I live in San Carlos, a community similar to Los Altos. My children are in third and ninth grade at our local schools. At times, I too have gotten caught up in the hype of “my kid is missing out” or “he won’t get into a good college” or “this will devastate his life forever.” I understand the panic. I try very hard to stop and breathe and remember there is more at play than my privileged child’s experience or that of his friends and neighbors.  I try to remind myself that all will be OK and that my upper class, white, freshman son is going to be fine.

During this year he, along with my students, will learn compassion and grace, sacrifice and hardship. Distance learning might mean that he will have a less than optimal year so that the vulnerable kids at his school can get what they need. It might mean that he doesn’t get every last thing he needs at the exact time that he wants it.

But distance learning will teach my son  that he is in a position to sacrifice a little so that another freshman who always gets the short end of the stick can have some breathing room and catch up just a little bit.  He will learn that for all the ways he feels like he might be suffering, there are others who are literally experiencing more significant and acute loss than this year of distance learning will ever cost him. 

For me, this year has been a great source of reflection on the true divides and advantages that many of us have been given. It is a chance for those of us with more to appreciate and accept that our “more” sometimes comes at the cost of other’s “less.” Our fight to get what is best for our kid often leaves other people’s children vulnerable, and more often than not in MVLA, voiceless.  

For many teachers, it is hard to see this pressure to return sooner, to have more and longer days with kids, as anything more than another example of an insular group of parents in our community pushing their desires and needs onto the public school system without regard for the most vulnerable among us. 

We are all spinning our wheels, spending huge amounts of time planning for a hybrid return so “some children” can supposedly have their lives “normalized.”  

There is no “normalizing” this pandemic. 

Yet, I will interrupt my students’ routines, establishing new ones. Meanwhile, I will continue to deliver my class via Zoom because most kids will not be on campus — some of our students will have to take several buses to get to campus because of the reduced VTA routes and times, and I imagine the ones who are on campus will quickly find out that being on campus might actually be worse given the WiFi instability, the masked teachers and the inability to have cameras on while Zooming. 

The warm classroom vibe we all miss will not be recreated, with students and teachers tethered to their desks, teachers tied to the computer and microphones needed for those at home.  Students now adept at collaborating in breakout rooms will be facing forward, six feet apart, unable to communicate except silently over Google Docs. In essence, the hybrid return causes a lot of disruption for questionable educational value.

I am interested to know if this vocal group of parents who continue to call into board meetings, protest at the school site, email and post on social media about their frustrations and disappointments, has reached out to LUCHA, the Latino parent group and asked them what they feel is best for their families? 

Has this group talked to the AVID teachers and students? Have they considered that most of those students and their families are the ones who are disproportionately affected by this virus and all the physical, mental and financial consequences of this pandemic? 

Do they understand that many of our most vulnerable students and families have already had a round of COVID-19 trample through their lives, that they are helping care for younger siblings who are not in school full-time or working over 20 hours a week to help financially support their families? Do they understand that coming back to campus is not an advantage for all? 

Has this vocal group requested the attendance data to learn that during distance learning, attendance for many of our classes has been better than ever? 

Have they considered that breaking the students’ current routines just to have some kids sitting at a desk in a classroom isn’t necessarily going to solve social-emotional issues or improve a student’s grade? 

Have they considered that we may have well over 50 percent of the student population who, for a whole host of reasons, may not want to return until we’re safely into the yellow tier? 

To me, a better community response would be one where kids gather in safe social bubbles, maybe at school, a park, a backyard or any place they can safely avoid community spread. In my dreams, this  vocal “Open the Schools” parent group would take all the steps outlined above and become partners in the broader parent community groups throughout our district (PTSA, LUCHA, ESL & AVID Parents), helping to lift up the voices of the parents who work three jobs and often cannot attend PTSA meetings, Board meetings and spend time on social media groups. 

Let the education professionals, the experts at meeting the needs of all the students entrusted to our care, focus our efforts on the kids who are literally fighting for their lives this year. Let us do our part by not straining the system more and creating an even larger disparity for the most vulnerable among us. 

So again, I ask the well-intentioned groups of parents who continue to make this work harder for everyone to please stop. Let us finish our school year in peace. The school will reopen. Your children will be fine. We will create memories and experiences that will help them begin to feel hopeful again. 

Please. Let us do that.