It’s an undisputed fact which has been talked about much yet remains the same, education looks much different today, not only in Oakdale, but throughout the state.
Oakdale Teacher’s Association President and longtime district educator Lisa Greenhow not only recognizes this but feels its impact is important to address. So much so, that at the final board meeting of 2021, Greenhow addressed the school board with a statement which was longer than usual. Her message heard as a passionate statement not just to the board but to the parents as well.
“Two messages,” she said of her words that night in a recent interview. “One was really to encompass the board and the parents. I really wanted them all to see that last year we worked together. I felt we had this community that included everybody. I was asking for that to continue.”
Following the importance of open communication and inclusion by everyone, Greenhow feels it equally important to recognize the layers.
“I don’t think anyone can truly understand what has happened,” Greenhow shared by way of the changing of teaching in a classroom.
Using an analogy to describe the changing of a teacher’s job to that of a crinkled up wrapper from a straw, which has now had water dropped on it.
“We added so many things and we became aware of so many things,” the OTA President said of teachers both during and post distance learning.
“A very harsh transition from nothing to all in,” she added.
Noting the teacher ability to seeing into the students’ homes during distance learning was often eye-opening and cannot be turned back to unknowing. Described it as heartbreaking, on some fronts yet also saw beauty by way of positive things in a student’s home.
While as a community there may be division on masking and vaccinations of students, Greenhow shared that is no different within the teaching community.
“I’m not sure who’s right,” she said, acknowledging each are entitled to opinions, thoughts and feelings, the district teacher of 25 years shared that returning to campuses it is just one more thing which hinders communication.
“Teachers live in a constant state of chaos of plug a hole, manage this,” she said. “Yes, I’m teaching but meanwhile, I’m also orchestrating stop chewing on your hand. There’s always chaos, and you manage it while you’re teaching.
“We’re good at the changing part,” she continued, reflecting on the early time of pandemic teaching. “But it was one change after another change.”
The all district return to campuses this year and the facade of returning to “normal,” is one which Greenhow also addressed. Teachers now face challenges which were never a part of their job that not only take time to address, but takes quality teaching time away from students.
“So much, I would say I probably say it several hundred times a day … put your mask on and put it over your nose, which is important,” Greenhow said of one of the many classroom topics which have changed for teachers.
There’s also the issue of quarantine, mapping student exposure and separate lesson plans for the students who must remain home if they’ve contracted the virus or have been exposed. All things which are part of the “layers,” the OTA President was addressing.
“We’re doing more than what we’re contracted to do. What we signed on to do currently, what when I became a teacher, what I agreed to do, has changed exponentially,” she said. “And it’s not recognized and part of recognizing that is the pay.”
Greenhow shared while she is not a part of the negotiating team, and did not wish to make that the focus of her address during that final 2021 meeting, it was still necessary to mention. Returning to the analogy of the straw the changes are exponential.
Looking to the current leadership of new Superintendent of Schools Dr. Dave Kline, Greenhow shared she feels he’s the right person for the job at this time.
“I think Dave’s the right choice for this time period because, he is able to sit in that middle space,” she said, noting constant communication with Kline during his tenure as Assistant Superintendent, Human Resources and during the onset of the pandemic.
“Dave understood what was going on,” she stated, in regards to returning students back to campuses quickly. “He always sees three or four steps ahead. He’s very thoughtful. He’ll say, I need time (to think about).”
Greenhow further described Kline as a chess player of sorts, when making decisions. Collecting all information and taking time to assess and making what he believes to be the best informed decisions.
“The reason I say he’s the right person right now is because one, I think he’s thoughtful. I think he cares a great deal about this district,” she said. “He understands intuitively, the emotional side of what’s needed right now.”
She also said it’s important for making the distinction of what can and cannot be controlled at the local level.
“People believe that the district has a lot of power,” she said. “A lot of their power is held in the hands of lawmakers, who don’t have a clue about anything.”
In light of the changes through distance learning, Greenhow believes that the return to campus full time was something both teachers, as well as students were not prepared for. Though acknowledging that all grade levels need the socialization school provides, it remains a tough situation with ongoing protocols and younger students, especially, not understanding physical space.
“That’s the problem, we’re back in full force. The kids are not ready for it. There were too many psychosocial issues that we are now trying to undo,” she explained. “I don’t care how amazing you are. You have teachers who taught icons for a year with zero to very little interaction.”
And while her feelings may be that the return to full force, in class learning may not be in alignment with the decision which was made, Greenhow remains hopeful.
“We need more parent involvement. Parents a part of the conversation. I think that’s going to happen,” she said, “thankfully, to that movement, that is going to happen because they got the rules looked at. The way the board meetings running is going to look different.”
When posed with the question of five tangible items which she identifies as important for all to acknowledge and understand in this unique time Greenhow noted: student behavior as number one; teacher isolation from their peers whom they once were able to work with in solving problems and offering support; the OTA split regarding masks; quarantine and mental health.
“The district’s response, which would be Dave Kline,” she said regarding the topic of mental health, “was to put those full time health clinicians at each site. Mine’s amazing, she sees about a third of my class, the kids ask for it. She just gives them a mental health break.”
As for her hope for the district going forward, Greenhow said, “Finding ways to get rid of unnecessary energy wasters. Finding a way to create less of the busy work. Same thing for the kids. The mental health part for the kids. If we can help the kids, we can help the teachers.
“We have a grieving community,” she continued. “People are currently angry. That’s the stage and eventually we’re going to hit acceptance again. And I’m really worried because that means complacency.”
Ultimately, she hopes that change can be for the better.
“This is an evolution. I think it can change right now and be better than what we had before,” she summarized. “It’s okay, if it goes. It’s an archaic system. It’s been around a really long time and there needs to be some changes, in my personal opinion.”