School Schedule Instability Is Taking a Toll
By Christy Martin, Ed.D
Just three months after opening schools in some districts, we are back in the in-and-out business. It is a constant change of being in-person one day, online the next, or a staggered schedule next. It is not district-wide and instead is a school-by-school opening, closing, online, and staggered scheduling free-for-all. Districts are telling us that it is due to the lack of available substitutes. For parents, students and teachers, it is unnerving.
Students, teachers and parents thrive on consistency. As a retired educator and someone who also worked with foster youth, I often questioned youth who were aging out of foster care about what was most discouraging about their personal situations and what they needed to grow and thrive. Time after time, they indicated that the stability of a schedule, sameness, and being able to count on those things was critical to their mental wellbeing. It is no wonder that the mental health of our children is at risk. They need school, but they also need the stability of a schedule that is not last-minute.
One can only imagine what this roller coaster of school openings and closings is doing to parents and the people they work for. Trying to find appropriate child-care at the last minute is unnerving. Many do not have someone readily available and need to be excused from work to maintain child safety and educational stability for their children. Employers are probably scrambling just as much as parents.
Teachers who must prepare and set goals for students and prepare assignments are unduly stressed with not knowing when or what type of instruction they are to provide until the last minute. They, too, are suffering mental and physical exhaustion trying to keep up with a revolving door of in-person and remote instruction. Teacher mental health is being tested and pushed to the limit.
Looking for Possible Solutions
There is no doubt that this pandemic is something that districts are unprepared for. Let’s hope that our schools can remain open in January and throughout the rest of the school year. The pandemic will be with us through the winter and spring, but we can do better. It might be prudent for districts to preschedule specific schools ahead of time to be open for certain periods of time and have substitutes and teachers scheduled in a revolving way for those schools that are to be open. We need to find ways to make the stability of scheduling something that our children, parents, community and teachers can plan for.
Districts might also consider offering some type of supervised care in lieu of school. Governments and even individual employers should consider subsidizing these types of programs so that our economy and our workers can keep our economic infrastructure running. This would at least offer the sameness of going to the school building where they could participate in online classes as easily as they do at home. It would be a Godsend for parents.
There is a plethora of talent in the retired ranks of education that would gladly work partial online teaching schedules, as most are in a high-risk group that would find in-person teaching challenging. Districts might want to explore this option. If they are not already doing so, there are also teachers who would prefer to work part-time and might be an asset in co-teaching or part-time teaching from home. This would provide some relief to an overburdened full-time staff that, in some instances, are attempting to do online and in-person teaching.
For middle and high school students, doing one class or subject at a time is still an option. It provides more exposure safety for students and staff, easier contact tracing and consistency in subject matter and teaching. Students and teachers would find this option less stressful and easier to manage in these extreme circumstances.
Providing structured schedules in a pandemic might be too late and too difficult at this point. We have emergency preparedness plans for all types of things. Future thinking with this experience in mind might necessitate that we plan for how to keep education going in emergencies that cause long term lack of regular school. We have gotten some good things out of this experience; an awareness of our weaknesses in planning for school scheduling is one of those.
About the author
Christy Martin recently retired after more than 35 years as an educator K-12 and post-secondary, as well as several years as a coordinator of programs for youth aging out of foster care. She writes about what she knows from experiences in education and social services. Christy welcomes comments on her articles. Communicate with her via email at email@example.com.
- The New York Times – Teaching in the Pandemic: ‘This Is Not Sustainable’
- Inside Higher Ed – Faculty Pandemic Stress Is Now Chronic
- The New York Times – Teachers face a steepening toll during the pandemic