Search form

Parents, Teachers and Omicron - Collaborating for Change

empty classroom

In the education sector, particularly nowadays, we have so many questions and receive few answers. Much of what we ask about is controversial or emotionally charged; people seem to be clashing a lot more in public forums. Since the start of the pandemic, debates about what is best for schools and students have gathered increasing momentum. Now, with Omicron once again changing our school landscapes, conflicts around in-person vs. virtual education are more heated than ever before. Unfortunately, two groups that should be collaborating – parents and teachers – wind up feuding about issues that deep down, they often agree about. 

Oversimplified as a fight over opening schools, the larger problem that prevents parents and teachers from collaborating toward the joint goal of helping children is a growing dearth (or more accurately, death) of compassion. Battles over the wellbeing of children have always come to a head in schools, but in the past, the debates were not as charged. The need for standardized assessments to determine achievement, the implementation of curricula built on Common Core State Standards, or the censorship of core texts are all complex conversations. What nobody foresaw prior to March of 2020 was an abrupt shift in dialogue about schools to include not just what students should learn, but where that learning takes place.

The uptick in social media arguments about the benefits of in-person vs. remote instruction is a good indicator that students are experiencing significant instability as arguments about school safety reach unprecedented levels. Virtual instruction is back on the table, and with it come vicious exchanges among adults that children rely upon for level-headedness. It is no wonder that incidents of misbehavior have risen with this school year; not only are students struggling to connect with teachers and with one another, but instructional disruptions have also reached an all-time high as kids see the grown-ups around them caught up in distraction or confusion. 

Part of compassion involves empathy, and we often define that word incorrectly. To empathize with someone, we need to have shared experiences to draw from. As I write this, my children are downstairs in what we call “Zoom school.” They have been virtual this week, and as a result, my own life has been upended once again with the sounds of sibling squabbles and distant teachers asking for attention. Because I hold the dual lens of parent and educator, I see exactly why kids should not stay home unless they must, and I also see why school systems are collapsing under the weight of untenable conditions. 

In Vox article “America Doesn’t Have Enough Teachers to Keep Schools Open,” Anna North speaks to the issues schools face with trying to retain staff in view of a significant substitute shortage. Before Delta emerged, schools were hopeful that a gradual recovery was on the horizon. “But in the fall, districts around the country started facing substitute shortages, brought on in part by the large number of teachers who had left the field since the pandemic began. That meant that when teachers were out, other staff at the school had to handle their classes — on top of their regular work.” 

With Omicron, the game has changed again. In these early days of January, rules around quarantine and isolation are placing a daily burden on schools. As part of his annual prediction list for education, teacher Larry Ferlazzo shared with Washington Post writer Valerie Strauss that “There will be a big increase in teacher retirements in the spring/summer, leading to a teacher shortage that will make this school year look like a picnic.” Unless this latest surge of infection falls quickly, the potential impact of long-term absences and staff shortages on student learning is terrifying.

Like most parents, I want my children in a school building. At the same time, as a teacher, I question the effectiveness of in-person instruction that occurs amid so much disruption. Is it better to be in a school but see different adults constantly, many of whom are there for supervision rather than instruction? Or is it better to be at home with the teacher of record instructing from afar and with all the distractions or technological impediments that interfere with learning? These are questions that are not easily answered, especially since our current modes of debate seem to occur via sniping at one another on social media.

Instead of feeding into the frenzy of blame that is so popular in conversations around schools, let’s try a different approach. When media outlets air the grievances of the same vocal parent or teacher representatives repeatedly, that gets us nowhere. The only way out of this increasingly dire situation is to collaborate by creating joint parent-teacher workgroups that strategically address widespread concerns like staffing shortages and learning disruption. By and large, the loudest and angriest voices in the room get the most attention. It is time for more reasonable, solutions-oriented people to come forward. Schools must invite parents to be part of designing the processes we build to address this latest phase of the pandemic. Parents and teachers may be sensationalized as rivals in the media, but we all want the same thing: to help children. Joining together for the benefit of children is the next step. Parents know about the struggles students experience at home with learning; teachers are trained to help them. We can use our different perspectives to elevate ideas that work. In the interest of saving our children, let’s come together before it’s too late.  

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has taught and led for more than 20 years. She is the author of Teach More, Hover Less and is also a National Board-Certified Teacher with additional certification in administration and supervision. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @MirPloMCPS.

Copyright© 2022 Education World