K-12 teachers are out of step with American workers

Parents are not doing Zoom school. They think it’s stupid. Yet teachers have been doing school day after day like it’s essential. A survey by Fishbowl reveals that the majority of professionals prefer to continue working from home. Except K-12 teachers. They prefer going back to working at school.

What’s amazing about that survey is that teachers are so different from the rest of the workforce, so it seems unlikely that they are capable of training kids to be part of the workforce. It’s hard to guess why teachers don’t want to work at home, but it must be difficult for them to compartmentalize at home. And it must be difficult for them to minimize distractions while they work. Which are, of course, the very skills that make them great with children.

We have selected the best babysitters, and we have built babysitting buildings in every town. Let’s be honest about what’s going on instead of calling this school. Babysitting is happening at school. And school can happen at home. Because work can also happen at home.

Which means now we can start figuring out what to do about the lack of socioeconomic mobility in the United States.

13 replies
  1. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I refuse to accept this experiment/response to the pandemic is somehow the new “norm”. There’s no doubt many good lessons will be learned from it. However, school does have its place in our society and for many people (parents and students alike) is more than merely a “babysitting building”. What school shouldn’t have, though, is a monopoly on our education system. There has to be more trust and choice given to parents and children alike to make the correct decisions for themselves.
    You say – “And school can happen at home. Because work can also happen at home.” While both can happen, they’ll happen for different reasons. The motivations for each is different. As for the “lack of socioeconomic mobility”, I’d like to see some sort of education voucher system. Working out such a system would be very political. What I wonder, though, is how well school systems will financially cope with so many people out of work. How will individual school districts respond? Will some districts respond better because their taxpayers are financially better off and the school district has a lower unemployment rate? Will the states become even more involved in funding poorer school districts? It’s very strange to me to see employees deemed “non-essential” and have their world turned upside down and inside out. It’s a decree from various state governments that I considered to be wrong from the beginning. People will necessarily get creative and find solutions for themselves with or without help from the government. It’s so hard to predict the future as evidenced by this pandemic and our reactions to it.

  2. Leonie
    Leonie says:

    This is way more complicated than you make it out to be.

    I think just about all teachers understand that zoom is a bad substitute for in-person classes. In most districts they’re required to do it regardless of how ineffective it is. I know a few parents who have complained privately to teachers and the response from the teachers is that they completely agree. They ask the parents to complain to the Principal and school board. Until the administration decides to change, the teachers have no choice.

  3. Alexis Meyers
    Alexis Meyers says:

    Teachers want to go back to work exactly because Zoom school is stupid. They have come to the exact same conclusion that parents have. The difference is what they are responsible for. Parents only have to think about what is best for our own kids. Teachers have to think about what is best for all of the kids. The best way to reach all of the kids is in a face to face, free, public setting. That is why teachers want to go back to work; it is because being at work makes it more possible to actually teach most kids.

    • Meg
      Meg says:


      Due to being a disposable person, I am not in favor of the lockdowns, and shutdowns, and new normal. I just want to go back to the old normal. Except that I do agree that homeschooling can be better for some students. I personally send (sent) mine to school for electives and athletics. Core subjects are done at home online and with a tutor.

      I will not give the “new normal” school my children. No masks, no social distancing, no panic porn. The numbers and science do not match up with the hysteria. There is something else going on. The rich no longer want to pretend they work hard. The white collars no longer want to pretend they work as many hours as those below them who work 40+ hours and can’t afford health insurance. The WFH people I know have taken no salary cuts but work almost none from home. This is not about Covid. It is a revolution. There is a huge class divide being brought to light. Gun purchases are skyrocketing. No one seems to be working at all.

      My kid was told by her teacher who had to shift her elective online to submit a picture of her shoe for an A. As in, “dear teacher, could you help me with this project?” “Dear student, submit a picture of your shoe and I will give you an A.”

      • jennifer Hyndman
        jennifer Hyndman says:

        I read the article you attached. Very insightful and it expresses some of the thoughts I had myself.

  4. Kay
    Kay says:

    As someone who has been talking directly to parents, teachers, and students about emergency schooling, where families are opting out of emergency schooling, it’s not because it’s “stupid.” Parents who can work from home and can afford devices and home internet are stretching themselves to make school happen at home precisely because they don’t think it’s unimportant. Students miss the school community. They miss the higher quality instruction they get when they aren’t trying to navigate multiple apps and wait on an instant message reply from their teachers instead of the in-the-moment feedback they get at school. Teachers know their students are falling behind and are, in some cases, not safe at home. Special education teachers are struggling to provide an education to students who can’t log in to apps and virtual classes on their own.

    I’ve been reading your posts for years, and I know you may think they don’t need to be trying so hard to make emergency school work. But that’s not how the families I’ve spoken with feel, no matter how you might disagree with them.

    Families are getting a shitty version of school right now. The inequities that impact education on the best of days are amplified by this situation and there are many who can’t access even this shitty version of school. That is not the same thing as opting out because they think it isn’t important.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The inequities are increasing when school is on zoom. That’s the most important thing here. So the parents who can opt out do opt out. Because those kids don’t need school anyway. Your zip code determines your outcome in life, not your schooling. That has been shown to be true in every study ever. We do not know how to change that. Zoom just makes that situation worse. It’s exaggerated. But the same principle is true: the hoops kids jump through at school don’t get kids out of poverty.

      What families need right now is money for food, and childcare. Many families have parents working and nowhere to send their kids for care. These families don’t need school, especially when zoom school requires attention from parents. Families need help. School is not help. School is work for parents. Kids are overwhelmed because parents are overwhelmed. Kids need social workers, not teachers talking to thirty kids at once.

      I’m not blaming this on the teachers. It’s a bad system. Although at some point I do think its the responsibility of the teachers to recognize they are part of a system that is not good for the children.


      • Kay
        Kay says:

        Yes, I am fascinated by the information you’ve shared here about the outcomes of student-directed learning. And the remote schooling during the pandemic IS increasing inequities. Still, parents are trying to have their kids participate, and are desperately awaiting the return to normal schooling. Those that have the means are NOT all opting out–in fact, they’re the ones purchasing devices and desks and setting up study spaces in their homes. They’re paying tutors to supplement and babysitters substitute for them in co-teaching while they continue working. Not all of them, I’m sure. But so far, the families I’ve spoken to with means are opting in, and the ones I’m reading about who are “opting out” lack the means to participate.

      • Bostonian
        Bostonian says:

        The inequities are increasing for other reasons too: my kids’ private school still has my kids in multiple sessions a day, covering every single subject they have at school (yes, even music). My daughter misses seeing her friends face to face, but she does at least see their faces for several hours a day. She’s in one meeting after another about 50% of the time between 9 and 3. In between, she eats lunch, does assignments, and chats with her school friends over the internet. After 3, she bikes to the park by herself for a ‘social distance playdate.’

        As my daughter was already using a computer a lot, she quickly ramped up to taking care of her schedule, her email, and her assignments. At this point, I just leave her to it and she gets everything done. She is completing about the same amount of work as she did while at school. Taking care of her own organization has been a good and appropriate learning experience for her.

        Meanwhile, my friends’ kids who are in public school get a fat packet of handouts every week and a single zoom meeting every other day. My daughter’s friend in public school is disengaged and depressed. Although the public school teachers get paid more than the private school teachers, at this moment they don’t seem to be earning it.

        My daughter’s school doesn’t require much attention from us, doesn’t require extra work from us, and my kids are not overwhelmed. That required such union-unfriendly moves as cancelling the spring break for the teachers so they could all learn what they needed to in order to make online school work when it started up again. I think paying for it was worth it this spring.

        Also, we’re moving to a fancier zip code tomorrow. Will that change my kids’ outcome in life? She’s staying at the same school.

      • Emily Berlinghoff
        Emily Berlinghoff says:

        I’m a high school math teacher and my responses are:
        1. School is stupid for some kids; those who live, as you say, in the right zip code, have parents who can manage work and education for their kids on their own.
        2. But, some kids LIKE school. They like being with lots of other people their age; they enjoy the extracurriculars; or they prefer personal interaction with a variety of helpful and skilled adults.
        3. I totally believe in choice. If you’re able and want to, definitely home school your kids. Do half and half, as you describe. On the other hand, if you don’t feel adequate or don’t have the time or resources, send your kids to school. There’s nothing wrong with having numerous systems side by side for kids.
        4. Zoom school doesn’t HAVE to be stupid. During the pandemic, I pre-recorded lessons so kids could watch and rewatch at times that were practical for them, then scheduled Zoom sessions for questions, optionally of course. It was quite beneficial to the few who needed help.
        5. Finally, the most important thing is for parents AND educators to provide options. As described above, flexibility is essential. As high schoolers, my students were often babysitting younger siblings so we had to relax our due dates here and there and allow do-overs from time to time, but things got done. We covered all the same objectives we had in prior years.

        Best of luck to all parents and fellow teachers out there. We can do this!

  5. Beth
    Beth says:

    I saw a comment that said schools are 50% babysitting, 35% socialization and 15% education. I think that sounds about right.

  6. GenerationXpert
    GenerationXpert says:

    I have to say I was appalled at the lack of online learning knowledge her teachers have. We’ve been teaching continuing ed and higher ed online for 20 years – why haven’t the K-12 teachers kept up? And kids instinctively know how to use the internet to learn. My kid can tell you anything you want to know about horses, but she doesn’t take horses class in school. Next year, she’s spending half day in a Vet Tech program and half day in regular classes. My older kid did something similar her senior year and was really happy with it because she wasn’t spending her whole day being talked at.

    It kind of reminds me of the early days of the World Wide Web. I work in marketing, and when we first got websites we basically posted our brochures on line, but then it evolved into a two-way street. K-12 teachers are applying what they do face-to-face to a Zoom call. It won’t work until the evolve into a model that suits the information age learner.

  7. Kristin
    Kristin says:

    This whole Zoom thing is ridiculous! We have companies that have already created some decent online curriculum for K-12. Why can’t we just switch to that? We can pay K-12 (that’s the name of one of the current public online curriculums) for each student and K-12 can even hire the public school teachers to teach. Why do we need to do Google Meet-up and Zoom? It’s clooged together and stupid! My 8-7ear-old daughter refuses to do it. I have two older home-schooled kids so I do know about the other programs out there and I know people like them! The only answer is that it is political. So the kids miss out because we don’t want to try to actually come up with something good! The result of all this is people everywhere will think homeschooling is a terrible idea.

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