Justice Page teacher: ‘Sometimes I wonder about our assumptions’

The Southwest Journal is documenting the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. As the outbreak evolves, we will be checking in with the participants regularly. Read all of the stories here.

All interviews are edited for length and clarity.

Tracey Schultz, science teacher, Justice Page Middle School

I really wanted to be back.

That doesn’t mean that everyone should be back. There are some families for whom going back is not going to be right or safe, and safety and health are absolutely the No. 1 priority. And there are also some teachers who, for safety and health reasons, cannot come back.

I wasn’t optimistic, but I was somewhat hopeful we could figure out a way that folks who needed to be at home could be at home and people who wanted to be at school could.

As someone who doesn’t have young kids at home and doesn’t have any underlying health conditions, I feel like at this point in my life I’m somebody who can be back sooner with maybe less personal protective equipment during some of that trial-and-error period. When we can do that, let’s do that, and then I can help do some of the problem-solving and figuring out so that folks who are in different situations are going to be able to walk back into what they need.

I do think it’s possible to get kids to wear masks and social distance. Here’s the thing: We don’t give kids enough credit. Oftentimes kids do things so much better than adults if they know why. And you know what, they want to be back in school. They want to be with their friends. I’m sure they have already realized that, “There are all of these things about school that I really, really miss that I didn’t think or know that I was going to miss.”

Obviously, the risks of community spread are really high, but sometimes I wonder about our assumptions. Are there things that actually we could do at school that could reduce community spread? If we’re teaching kids, “This is what you need to do to be safe, and this is how to do it and here are some supplies to make sure that you can do that,” maybe there are actually ways that life outside of school gets safer for those kids. But at the same time, I want to stress that I also completely understand that there are kids and families and teachers who can’t do that right now and that we’ve got to figure that out, too.

Teaching remotely out of my classroom at Justice Page is one of my big hopes and dreams. [The district will allow teachers to work out of their school buildings if they choose.] First of all, it’s just really weird if your teacher is teaching you from their living room or their closet or whatever. For kids to see us in school, I think, makes it more school-like without a doubt. I also think that for a large majority of us, school is a safe place for us to work right now. I am more socially distanced in my classroom at Justice Page than I am practically anywhere else in my life.

I do think [the return to A-F grading] is a good thing. We proceeded with letter grades through the whole spring — even knowing that in the end we weren’t going to give actual letter grades — because that was the system that kids knew. On top of everything else that we were changing, that was a hard one for me all of a sudden to say, “Oh forget it guys, we’re not going to do grades.” For some kids, grades are really motivating, and I think anything that is motivating when used correctly is really positive. Families, I think, also better understand a letter grading system just because of their own experiences and familiarity. It’s a way to talk about how a particular assignment went or what kind of progress a student is making.

We need to do everything we can to really communicate with folks. It’s always a big push to make sure that all families know when school is starting and how to enroll in school and find your school, and this year it’s just a whole different ballgame. I hope that in the weeks ahead, we’ve got a big, unified effort to really reach out to people and connect and make sure people have what they need so we can welcome them back and get started. And honestly, that’s how it should be all the time. We need to make sure everyone has a Chromebook and WiFi, not just now but forever. Let’s always make sure that kids have all the tools that they need to be successful at home and in the classroom.


 You can read all of the stories here.