How the #2021snowpocalypse changed my view of education
I was like all other Texas residents at the beginning of the week.
It happens so infrequently, I hurried outside with my children. We made snow angels, tried to throw snowballs (though the snow was too dry to properly pack), and ended up using buckets to assist in the creation of a snowman.
I figured, along with most of my educator colleagues, that school would definitely be out on Monday, February 15. Maybe to feel safe, schools would also shut down on Tuesday since the roads would be icy.
And then, for the second time in less than a year, the world broke.
Texas' (criminally?) underregulated power grid was not set up for cold. Two straight weeks of 100+ degree heat and A/Cs blowing on full blast? Not a problem. Deep freezes that last multiple days? Definitely not.
Cavorting in the snow quickly became a race against the elements. As power shut off, that affected water treatment plants. For cities that didn't already lose water because of frozen valves and busted water mains, water trickled off to add insult to injury. Grocery stores took on a March 2020 feel as aisles became empty. Bottled water, perishables, and ramen noodles (hey, you do what you have to) flew off the shelves.
While my family was blessed to never lose power, hundreds of thousands of people lost power and did their best to survive for several days in freezing temperatures. While we blessedly never suffered a "rolling blackout", though I'm pretty sure that term is now jinxed and power companies would be wise to avoid using it in the future, our water has been off for several days.
For the last several days, my existence has boiled (pun intended) down to three questions:
Will there be water in the stores today?
Is there enough snow left to melt in order to fill the toilet tank?
How long can my family of six go between flushes without it becoming too gross?
This has been my world. With shrinking supplies, snow that's melted (and the clean snow was gone over a day ago), my universe has shrunk to one element - water. How do I get more of it? How much do I need to gather from my yard, store in my bathtub, and melt on the stove to give my family just one more flush?
And we had it easy!!! We never lost power.
It was as I was driving back from a local elementary school this morning with a 40-gallon cooler blessedly filled with water, I had a thought that shifted my entire outlook on education.
This is what some of our students face every day. I knew of food/water scarcity and the mental toll it takes on children, but only in a hypothetical sense. If I had been forced to learn, take tests, and interact with others in socially-acceptable interactions over the last few days, I would have been useless. I only had survival on my mind.
So, here are a few reflections on the #2021snowpocalypse and how it should impact educators:
Principals and district administrators, do everything in your power to partner with local government entities, churches, and non-profit organizations to meet the needs of your students. If they are hungry, poorly clothed, and/or live under the poverty line, learning is far from their top priorities. How can you expect them to focus on a STAAR benchmark when they know they'll go home to an unheated home or face hunger over the weekend?
Teachers, mental health for students is not some add-on that you should do twice a week if you have the time. Social-emotional learning is the foundation of all the academic learning you hope to accomplish. If students are merely surviving, they won't be able to thrive.
Let's take the trauma of the last week and find the silver lining. As educators, we typically don't suffer from the ramifications of poverty as our students do. Teachers have at least a bachelor's degree and principals a master's, so it's safe to assume that most of us don't live in their world. Never forget what this week taught you.
One bright spot we can take with us is the potential for empathy. The next time you see your students dirty, poorly clothed, and unable to focus due to hunger, stop and remember what that was like. Show them some grace and connect with them first, human to human, before moving onto academic content.