To say that the pandemic of 2020 has impacted all of our lives in recent months is truly an understatement.
While the impact has reached virtually everyone and every profession, it would be safe to say that the field of education has been impacted at least as much, if not more, than any other in our society.
The disruption to the educational process has hit every form and age of education from preschool to higher education. Public and private institutions have been forced to deal with issues such as transforming instruction to mostly a virtual delivery, continuing to provide meals to students in need and making difficult decisions on continuing activities that are vital to the success of the education of our young people. In addition, colleges and universities are struggling with the decision about bringing students back on campus to traditional dorm life.
While in no way would I suggest that the current state of education is in better shape than we would have been without the disruption of COVID-19, as a 34-year educator I have seen many positive changes in education at all levels over the last several months. Hopefully, these will be around long after the pandemic is gone. Those changes center around communication, collaboration, involvement of stakeholders, a desire to take care of all students and lifelong learning.
Communication and collaboration surely go hand in hand, and there have been plenty of examples of both in the education world recently. Teachers are not only collaborating with others in their own building about the needs of their students, but they are also finding ways to communicate with other teachers. In many cases, I have seen conversations on social media between teachers across district and even state lines on how to best meet the needs of their students.
School districts and other state and national organizations are offering free trainings and opportunities for educators to connect with each other, and teachers seem to be finding specific ways to collaborate with each other while sharing ideas of how to survive in this current situation. Private and public social media pages are being developed almost daily with ideas being freely shared by teachers across the country in an effort to help each other.
It seems that the focus on accountability in recent years has almost cut down on the sharing of ideas and has created an atmosphere of competition rather than collaboration. The past several months has been a complete reversal of this trend, and our students will benefit from the ideas that are being shared among educators.
Communication had to improve with parents at every level as well. Involving parents in the education of their children during this time was an absolute necessity as they became directly involved with what their children were doing in their classes. Many parents were already involved to this level, but this shift can only help the education of children for the future. Similarly, teachers have had to move back to the role of a student in many ways as educators have had to learn more about online communication with each other and the delivery of instruction virtually.
The Mississippi Department of Education took steps to modify the requirements for teacher licensure out of necessity due to the unavailability of standardized licensure exams that are normally required. This change in licensure requirements has created a dramatic increase in teacher education programs and alternate route certification programs across our state. The past decade has seen a dramatic drop, approximately 35 percent, in enrollment in teacher education programs in Mississippi. This alarming trend could be disastrous for our state if it were to continue. There is no way to know if the current interest in the teaching profession will continue, but it is an encouraging sign to be sure.
My hope and prayer is that one day soon we will be able to return to normal and that everyone will again be healthy and safe from this virus. I also hope that education will be able to return to the culture and customs we have come to expect and enjoy. Until that time, and hopefully well after that time, however, it is also my hope that educators at all levels will continue to collaborate together and to constantly look for ways to improve education just as we have all been forced to do during this time.
Dr. Ben Burnett is the dean of the School of Education at William Carey University and the retired Superintendent of Education for Lamar County. Write him at email@example.com.