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A Year Later: Baltimore Teacher’s Reflection on the ’20-’21 School Year – Wyatt Oroke, City Springs Elementary/Middle School

At the onset of the pandemic, the Fund asked City Schools students, teachers, and principals to share their experience of the shift to remote learning. A year later, the Fund has followed up with the same individuals for their perspective on the 2020-2021 school year. In our fifth blog post of this series, Wyatt Oroke, Baltimore City Public Schools’ 2020 Teacher of the Year and the 2021 Maryland State Teacher of the Year, explains that it’s important to learn from this past year and rethink how we can provide a more equitable education system for all students. You can read his essay from May 2020 here.

I remember walking into my principal’s office on March 13, 2020. I remember her telling us that school buildings would be closing for the next couple of weeks in response to a pandemic that was quickly ravaging the world. I remembered just days before doing a Kahoot! Quiz with my scholars where we explored this mysterious disease known as COVID-19 and learned about how to prevent ourselves from getting it. I remember my first emotion: fear.

I knew what this moment would mean to our scholars and our families. I knew we were already working in an education system intentionally designed to hold our scholars back, and that this pandemic would only expand the inequities that exist. It would pit those with access to resources against those with limited resources. I was afraid at what the next few months would look like.

Now, over a year later, I still teach behind a computer screen. That is set to end in just a few weeks, as we transition to in-person summer opportunities and gear up for fully in-person learning opportunities next school year. As I reflect back on this year I am left with one central idea around our education system: it’s time to blow the whole thing up.

Our education system is one that has a long history of uplifting white communities and disenfranchising communities of color. I saw this pandemic as a chance to finally shift the narrative. To finally rethink how we go about this work and how we can provide an education system that works for all scholars. What I learned was that people return to their comfort zones when things get tough, even if it’s not good for young people. When things got challenging, when we were met with obstacles, we tried to virtually recreate in-person learning experience for scholars, or push scholars back into classrooms that looked as similar to how classrooms looked in February of 2020 as possible. We tried to return to “normal.” How quickly we forgot that “normal” was holding back millions of scholars across our country.

I think far too often we as adults and educators do things that make us feel whole, rather than make scholars and young people feel whole. Conversations that are supposed to center young people, quickly center adults. We are frightened by the unknown. We are frightened of change.

As I get ready to fully return to in-person learning, I am left with a single emotion, the same emotion I felt over a year ago: fear. Fearful that we will go back to structures and systems that didn’t put scholars first. Fearful that the voices and needs of our young people will be drowned out by the arguments of adults. Fearful that we will continue to hold our communities of color back by uplifting a racist education system. Fearful that we will have learned nothing during this past year.

We cannot continue to be afraid. We cannot continue to be okay with mediocre. The lives of our young people are on the line every single day. We cannot afford to waste another precious second of their time. We have so much to do. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

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