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No More Easy Button:
A Suggested Approach to Post-Pandemic Teaching

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When I buy fruit at the grocery store, I tend to avoid kiwis most of the time, even though I love them. I avoid them because they are hard to prepare. Unlike an apple, which you just wash and bite into, or a banana, which is pretty easy to peel, a kiwi takes work, and even after many years of peeling and cutting kiwis, I’m still not entirely sure I’m doing it right.

And yet if I really think about it, cutting and slicing a kiwi is nothing compared to, say, preparing a watermelon or a pineapple for eating. That’s work. Still, a kiwi is hard enough to make me pass it by most times I shop.

But at least I’m still in the produce section, buying fresh ingredients that I’m planning to cook into healthy meals. That’s a lot harder than going to the frozen food aisles and buying pre-made meals that only require heating up. And while doing that is less healthy, in the frozen food section at least I have a chance of finding healthier food than if I go to a drive-thru and get a burger and fries.

The thing about the burger and fries is that it’s so easy. And so fast. Where I live, I can fill up on hot, delicious food in a matter of minutes just by getting in my car and driving to one of like 30 different fast food places in my town. And for a few minutes while I take my first bites, I’ll feel awesome about that meal, because I’m getting fed and it tastes so good and wow, it was just so easy.

But that feeling won’t last. Soon I’ll start to feel sluggish, and I’ll start thinking about how bad for me that food was, and I’ll tell myself it’s going to be a while before I can do that again, because if I did it for the next meal, and the next, and the next, I would quickly become a very unhealthy human.

Those food choices range from difficult to easy, with things like kiwis and pineapples on the difficult end, and fast food on the easy end. I think it’s safe to assume we have all made choices that are all along that continuum, and that your rationale for your choices is similar to mine: The difficult is usually more rewarding long-term, so when you’re well-rested and on top of your game, you’re able to make more of those difficult choices, but when life gets challenging in other areas, you might lean more toward the easier ones, despite knowing they’re not good for you.

As humans, we’re wired to go for the easy button. And we have so many of them nowadays. Here are some of mine:

This struggle between what’s good for us and what’s convenient, I believe, is part of the human condition.

And we do it in education as well. Here’s just one simple, common example: If we really wanted to find out what a student knew about a topic, having them answer open-ended questions would give us a pretty accurate picture of that knowledge.

But essay questions, or even short-answer questions, are a lot harder to grade than multiple-choice questions, which only ask students to choose correct answers. There’s a chance they might not actually know the material, but just guess the right answer. Still, because multiple choice tests are so efficient, and because we have so many students, we might lean in this direction more often.

Let me repeat that last part: because we have so many students.

Because that’s really the root of it, and I want to be very clear about this: Most of the time when we hit that easy button it’s because we have to. Most schools and districts have been set up in ways that make us feel like we have no choice: Large class sizes, a focus on standardized tests, and a lack of funding means we’re always being asked to do more with less. The conditions under which most teachers teach are not anywhere near ideal for good quality teaching. So the easy button becomes more like a panic button, and we hit it not because we’re lazy, but because we have to survive.

We hit the easy button, and hit it, and hit it again. Cutting corners. Making choices that we know aren’t really best for kids but that we hope are good enough.

And we’ve been doing this for generations, moving kids through the system with what looked like a passable education and sending enough of them out into the world as more or less functional adults, so we were able to tell ourselves that things were working well enough. 

And then the pandemic hit. And we tried to keep doing what we’ve been doing, but remotely. And kids started to fail. Students who used to get straight As stopped turning work in. When class sessions were scheduled over Zoom or Google Meet, less than half the class would show up—even if the meetings were called mandatory.  

Many people blamed COVID. They said remote learning doesn’t work. And I agreed with them, sort of. But what I also believed, and still do, is that the pandemic didn’t create problems. It just revealed them.

The kind of teaching that was happening in a lot of schools was only “working” because the kids were physically in front of us, so most of the kids, most of the time, did what we told them to do. It was a tacit agreement made between educators and families all over the world: You send us your kids, they sit in our schools for seven hours a day and do what we tell them to do, and we’ll give them good enough grades to pass. There was no guarantee under this system that they were actually learning. And there was also, DEFINITELY, no guarantee that they would ever be excited about it.

And now we’re starting to get to a place where restrictions will be lifted, where we can all get back into the buildings together, face to face, eventually without social distancing or masks. And so theoretically, many of the students whose grades dropped so dramatically during the pandemic should start to improve again. But will it be because they’re really learning? Will it be because they’re excited about what they’re doing?

Or will it simply be a matter of compliance? Of humans generally being cooperative and doing what they’re told? I think the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. In many classrooms, the transition may start off energized, where we get kids excited to learn again and plan experiences that take full advantage of the fact that we’re together, in person, again. But if we’re not careful, if we don’t go into it with a different mindset, we could easily slip back into our old ways, where we do what’s easy, what’s most efficient, and not what’s really going to contribute to a high-quality education.

I’d like to propose that we enter this new phase of teaching, this new period in history, with a new mantra: No more easy button. Let’s start to look at every decision we make about the way we do school with a more critical lens, and every time, before we move forward, let’s be asking ourselves: Is this the best move, or are we just hitting the easy button?

Before I start talking about what I think it could look like, I want to emphasize that I’m not talking about MORE. I’m talking about different. Not adding more to our plates, but taking some things off, rearranging stuff, changing the way we approach teaching. NOT adding more to what we’re already doing. You have all done more than enough, especially over the last year.

So this message is not just meant for teachers. You can do some of this on your own, but if the people who are running your school, the parents in your community, the district office, and your state government aren’t on board, if any or all of these parties have expectations that put you into that “easy button” mode where you’re just trying to do more and more, you’re only going to get so far.

The shifts I’m proposing are for everyone.

Using the Mantra: What will it look like?

So if we adopt this new mantra—if we consistently try to move away from that easy button—what will it look like in our teaching practices? Let’s explore four areas: lesson design, assessment, inclusivity, and relationships.

Lesson Design

Assessment

Inclusivity

Relationships

We are heading into a time when we’ll be able to gather together again, work closely, see each other’s faces, get back to normal. But normal didn’t work for a lot of kids. It also didn’t work for a lot of teachers. Too many systems and structures were set up for automation, to make things as efficient and convenient as possible for the people in charge. What I’ve shared with you here are just a few ways we can change things, but there are so many other possibilities.

We are at the very start of a new era. And we are wiser now. Our eyes are even more open to differences in student needs, to inequities in our system, to how important our connection is.

So let’s not go back to the way things used to be. With this fresh start, let’s take that wisdom and use it. As you plan for the upcoming year, keep looking for ways to lean away from the easy button, to do the slower, more nuanced, more satisfying work of prioritizing quality over quantity and creating schools where each student, and each teacher, has what they need to thrive.

Come back for more.
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31 Comments

  1. Kate Boyd says:

    Thank you, for always being willing to have honest, vulnerable and insightful conersations! I couldn’t agree more, and truly enjoy listening to your insights!

  2. Shanti E Ventura says:

    Thank you for this article. As part of the leadership team at an ES this is exactly what we want teachers to be focused on next year. We will be using your article as a resource to arcuately communicate our expectations for our teachers for next year.
    It is my opinion that our national ES expectations of teachers needs a paradigm shift where the priority is helping children fall in Love with Learning and learn how to self-regulate; stressed brains do not learn. When these two elements are in place the academic learning will soar.

    Thank you again

  3. Laura Hughes says:

    This episode was perfect and just what I needed to hear. On a different note, just eat the kiwi skins. They’re really good for you. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/eating-kiwi-skin#bottom-line

    • Ha!! Thanks, Laura!

      • rMs Gonzalez:
        Your work here is inspiring. I taught English for 21 years before joining the ‘dark side’ and becoming secondary principal. As I read your waltz from beginning to end of very exciting and energizing activities I was in awe. Your advocacy for project and movement based learning is spot on in meeting kids learning needs and styles.

        Having worked with project based learning most of my career despite havieng to mold it into the ‘five step lesson plan’ to meet the needs of the suits and ‘real learning’..

        One situatieon I encountered while supervising two science teachers at one high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District spells out the need to teach differently. The ‘learning” was the endocrine system. We reviewed the goals of the unit as laid out in the District Cource Discrption. At the end of the. course I constructed a six question test turning the Course goals into questions rather than statements. The kids were admonished to use their best English and have at it. After reading the 60 papers turned -in It was determined that all 60 scored at least 5 of 6 on a 6 pt rubric. They each passed with ease. One day later the District-constructed real test was given. There were 100 question with 70 being passing. Of the 60, only five scored above 70. Fifty-five failed. The two teachers were not surprised, but angered. Here was a situation where the kids learned the important stuff, could articulate the important stuff, and nag their grandparents about diabetes.

        Ms Gonzales you have worn me out. You need to keep cultivating nimble minded teachers across schools willing and knowledgeable enough to scour the universe for options, angles, videos, articles, speeches at al

        Dr. Tim Scully
        Ventura, CA

      • Thank you for taking this risk. I have not wanted to go back to normal for the reason you said- it wasn’t working for everyone! I love your practical suggestions- very thoughtful and spot on and actually learner-centered. As a school leader, you have named what I value and work towards. Changing practice/mindset is a long rocky road, maybe reflection on pandemic times will make it a bit smoother….
        I can see how the title might be off putting, but I hope people read past it and trust you. You deserve it!

      • Jodi Lynn Marsh says:

        Thank you for this article. It is exactly what I needed to hear going into this school year.

    • Richard K says:

      Kiwis are like peaches… a little fuzzy on the outside… wash and eat.. no peeling required. Even taught my kids to eat them like that…

  4. Giordana Santosuosso says:

    Kia Ora from New Zealand. I love reading your post. Just to let you know there is a simple way to eat Kiwis. But them in two and use a teaspoon to “excavate” the pulp. Some people in New Zealand eat the skin as well. Hope that help you and you will eat Kiwi a bit more often. The golden one are the best!

    • Thank you so much!! This cracked me up!

    • Danny Delgado says:

      Or just quarter them, use a knife to separate the pulp from the skin. Easy peasy!

      • Tammy says:

        Here in New Zealand, not only do we know how to eat fruit, but we know how to facilitate children’s learning too. I’ve been reading your posts for a while now and am continually bemused by what you write. Your descriptions of the work of teachers bears very little resemblance to what goes on all day, every day in my school. I feel so lucky to live in a land where we teach children mindfully, with the emphasis on the relationships, and where we know how to enjoy fresh food without making a big deal about removing the skin. You clearly manage to take the wrapper off your Maccers. What’s the problem with fruit peel?
        I can only recommend you take a look at the NZ education system and see how differentiated multi level learning can work. It sounds like it’s streets ahead of what’s going on in your country. Poor kids.

        • Steph says:

          Do you have a NZ blogger or other resource you’d recommend? I am interested in learning more. I am a math teacher for 13-15 year olds. Thank you!

  5. Hannah M. says:

    The true content of this podcast episode/article is inspiring and helpful. I especially resonated with the inclusivity and relationship sections because they have been a focus of my work this year that I plan to continue more heavily next year.

    However, the health shaming food analogy at the beginning was very off putting and othering. I totally understand the point that it was trying to make, but as a teacher who deals with weight/health stigma it was uncomfortable and distracted from the main message.

    • Hi Hannah,

      I’m so sorry if it came across as shaming; would you be willing to let me know what part had a “shaming” tone? My understanding of nutrition in general is that some foods are healthier for us than others, and if we eat the less healthy ones often, that can have health consequences. I was discussing my own choices along these lines, and I didn’t think I was even projecting shame on my own part about that; just exploring the line of thinking that usually leads to those choices. I guess I didn’t think I was othering because I was focused mainly on myself. If there is any way I could have used food as an example without it having that impact, I’d be interested to know.

      I’m really excited to hear that you’ve been focusing on inclusivity and relationships. I hope you find others in your school to partner with on that, because that can make it even more powerful!

      • Jennifer — this is a powerful article. The only hiccup I had to swallow was the food analogy, but that’s my personal mission to get folks to understand more about food. (Too many misunderstandings about diabetes, food, etc., and it’s, pun intended, low-hanging fruit for most comedians). But aside from that, fantastic article, and thank you again for your reflection and ideas.

  6. Patricia Betz says:

    Laura, this is spot on. There is much we have learned about learning in the way that helps students in the long run of their lives. I’d like to hear more about how schools and the adults in the sytem can change the way we work to benefit students.

  7. Jennifer,

    While I do not disagree with one word or recommendation, I want to suggest that easy is a direct response to teachers having so little control over their profession. When the end of the school year requires prepping students to take standardized tests, then the most logical response (built over years) is to ensure that students practice using M/C test, fill-in, and T/F assessments. The institution has become so data driven that it too has become lazy. Let us face it, numbers are so much easier to crunch. Numbers eliminate faces, personalities, and differentiation. So, the “stuff” trickles down.

    Like with the SAT, GPAs, and other wonderful acronyms, we all know that it needs to change. But until colleges are willing to forego ‘easy’ and instead look at a wider view of what each applicant is at a deeper level, schools will be slow to change. Same goes at the State and local levels. It is easy to put it all on teachers to make it less about easy and more about educating. But that is often difficult, if not impossible to affect. Resistance comes from the top. Until the districts and boards flex and begin to treat us, teachers, as professionals who not only know and love our kids, but also know what they need and how to deliver what they need, it will be a slow change.

    I love your posts and podcasts. They are inspirational and motivating. Still, when I get back to doing my thing, I get frustrated at the lack of willingness by the administration to see value in what I do.

    One last point…teachers already work too hard versus working smart. It is time that we begin to place the ownness on students for their education. We need to stop doing all the correcting, all the assessing, and all the grading. Students need to know ‘why’ in terms of their achievement. I have seen K-3 students see and understand their mistakes. And I have seen those same students, once they have recognized what they did incorrectly, better self-monitor on follow up assignments. When we are the sole judge of their success/failure, the students become too reliant upon our judgements to determine said successes/failures. This is where we can really help the students to gain agency. And, in my experiences, parents agree.

    Keep up the great work. We all wish that people such as yourself and your guests were running all districts. The creativity and innovation continue to be empowering. Keep working on change from the bottom up. Maybe one day soon, the top will come around.

  8. Annece Barrett says:

    There are just no words to describe how appreciative I am for your article! It’s just what I needed to regain my joy in teaching! Many of the traditional practices you mentioned, are the law, so to speak, in my country, with the teachers having to follow a prescribed method to achieve what is thought of as “success”. The pandemic, as you said, has certainly revealed lots of problems in our education system!

    I will certainly be using the advice and tips you’ve given to effect change and will definitely share the article with my fellow colleagues. New subscriber here!

  9. Cordes Lindow says:

    Eating Kiwis doesn’t have to be hard – just slice them in half and dig out with a spoon!

    (loved this post – and it is exactly what I noticed when we went remote last spring, so I have been working on all of these aspects this year, and you have encouraged me to stay the course!)

  10. Colin Ward says:

    Thank you for your insightfulness and consideration of what teaching will look like in this new teaching phase. In reflecting on my teaching practices and approaching my students in a post-COVID world, I see so much wisdom in what you are highlighting. Things will not be the same; many methods will need to be thought through about their effectiveness and practicality. Consideration about implementing and improving lesson design, assessment strategies, and inclusivity will undergird and strengthen what you have often considered the cornerstone of our vocation, building solid relationships.

    I think a new mantra is starting to be formed in my mind; I think it will be something like, “Enjoy more Kiwis!”

  11. Tracy Isham says:

    I actually loved your food choices analogy, Laura. I felt it added to your explanation of moving from “surviving to thriving” by not repeatedly hitting the easy button/fast food drive through.

  12. Abby says:

    I love this, and I agree. Once again, I have two thoughts…

    1. I cringed a little at the “fluid deadlines” idea. I have done that this year, and my job has turned into individual tutoring of 90 students instead of teaching 5 classes. It is, of course, the “right” way, but it’s unrealistic and draining. Here’s my best analogy: Imagine hand washing a load of dishes. You finish, wipe down the counters, and just as you start to walk away, someone puts a glass in the sink. Grr. You wash, dry, put away… then someone puts another glass in the sink. Repeat. Eventually your human nature will get the best of you and you’ll lose your patience.

    Also, deadlines create structure, and so many of my kids need better training in structure. Sometimes training stings. It’s how we remember.

    2. I am always on the lookout for lessons that incorporate all of these things (introvert involvement! Work smarter not harder! Relevant lessons!) and I have several that hit the mark. They are deeply satisfying to me. I just struggle to come up with the ideas. I teach a not-common subject and I feel like I’m reinventing the wheel all by myself, all the time, so sometimes I fall back on fluff because 180 days is a lot of time to fill. I have wasted hours sifting through all the crap lessons online. I’d kill for better resources or collaboration opportunities.

  13. Mitzi Garcia Chavis says:

    Jennifer, I am very grateful for this article, it is awesome! I completely agree on prioritizing Quality over Quantity by implementing DIFFERENT and appropriate strategies, resources, and assessments which promote students thinking skills through ORIGINALITY. Besides, the creation of activities or projects that promote collaborative work leading the students to interact with their surroundings, and providing a positive, enjoyable and fun learning environment; seem to be the key to move away from hitting the easy button, work smarter not harder, and obtain the expected teaching- learning results.

  14. Lingrong Cheng says:

    Ms. Gonzalez:

    Thanks for your insightfulness sharing. For sure, nothing is easy. I got a little bit used to do hybrid teaching with more strategies and technology supports. As a good teacher, we must think how can we led the students to kind of transfer back to traditional classroom learning? How can we empower our learning more efficiency, effective and fun? I fully appreciate for your sharing to give us more ideas.

  15. Ms. Garcia says:

    Thank you for the advices. It was very helpfull.

  16. Sra. Spanish says:

    Ms. Gonzalez,
    I appreciate your acknowledgement of how much more difficult teaching has been since the pandemic began. However, I’m disappointed and discouraged to see you repeatedly accuse all teachers of being lazy and using “fluff” and “the easy button.” Since the 2016-17 school year, administrator-mandated schedule changes at my school have decreased total instructional time by 20 percent. That’s the equivalent of a full day every week, and yet, I am expected to complete the same Spanish curriculum AND prepare students for success in the next level of Spanish class (and more importantly, in using their Spanish skills outside of the classroom).

    In addition, I teach ever-increasing numbers of students with learning challenges. As the classroom teacher, I am required to create all alternate content (yes, including multiple versions of every resource, every remediation activity, every retake, and every alternate-format assessment) AND administer alternate-setting assessments BY MYSELF, as my school does not have any educational paraprofessionals or co-teachers. Please know that it would be much, much easier for me to simply use the textbook resources and be done at a reasonable hour each day. Instead, my colleagues and I have completely redesigned the curriculum: condensing it more and more each year, making it even more readily usable in real-world situations, and enabling even students with severe language-based disabilities (such as dyslexia and dysgraphia) to be successful and gain meaningful functionality in the target language. How did we do this? We spend 12+ hours a day, 7 days a week: planning, redesigning, redoing, and reinventing the wheel, only to be told “just cut out the fluff and be a GOOD teacher for a change.”

    We’ve even tried jumping onto the bandwagon of “gamified learning,” only to discover that, while students certainly have fun, they learn and retain only a fraction as much information as they used to through repetitive skill-based practice. Many of our current students have had so much fun, project-based learning throughout these last 8-10 years that they have acquired little or no ability to memorize information. A language student who can’t memorize words and recall them will be forever unable to use the target language in real-world situations. Likewise, a student who believes the educational experts and expects that all learning should be easy and fun will refuse to engage in the learning… thus leading to the teacher being held responsible for the resulting low grade.

    And yet, educational experts such as yourself routinely villify teachers like my colleagues and me, who require our students to work hard, practice skills, and develop the memorization skills essential for success in Spanish and in life. On the flip side of the coin, parents and former students come back and thank the teachers every year for requiring the hard work and not just letting the students play games.

    You see, Ms. Gonzalez, learning a language (indeed, learning anything of value) requires self-discipline, repetition and practice, not just fun, games, and projects. What you and other non-teachers are quick to denigrate as “fluff” is actually the cultural backbone integral to full and comprehensive communication in the target language. When one of my administrators sent out an all-teacher email with the link to your article above, I dutifully read it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t disagree more with your basic premise. Teachers are NOT, as you insist, always looking for the easy way out. Rather, we work longer hours every year, with larger class sizes, and less support from administrators. We teachers are constantly being told by educational experts how inadequate and lazy we are. In fact, we are the first people to arrive at school every day and the last people to leave, working much longer hours than non-teaching staff at school, and also working long hours every evening, every weekend, and during every academic “break.”

    If your intent in publishing this article was to disparage and discourage dedicated classroom teachers, you’ve succeeded. If your intent was to inspire teachers to work harder, you’ve failed. I sincerely hope that you will take an unbiased look into a real classroom soon, and see the amazing work that teachers are doing.

    • Hi there. I have held your comment in moderation for a few days because I wanted to make sure I could respond at a time when I could do it thoughtfully.

      It’s clear I have struck a nerve and offended you, and for that I’m sorry. I knew as I was writing the post that this interpretation was a possibility, which is why I included lines specifically addressing that. (e.g., “So the easy button becomes more like a panic button, and we hit it not because we’re lazy, but because we have to survive.”) If there is any sentence in this post where I insist that teachers are “always looking for the easy way out,” I need to revise it, because that was not my intent. In fact, I stated quite plainly that teachers work incredibly hard–do NOT need to be working harder–and the systems and policies that dictate their work make it nearly impossible to sustain quality teaching for all students. I would hope that when your administrator sent out the link to my post, it was accompanied by a commitment to support growth at the administrative level, and not as some kind of admonishment to teachers. If that was the case, your administrator also misunderstood the post.

      I am well aware that there are many excellent teachers out there doing phenomenal work, and a big part of my mission here is to shine a light on those classrooms so others can be inspired to follow suit. I am also aware that there’s a lot of room for improvement, and that quality varies by classroom. This post details all kinds of things that need more presence in classrooms: anti-bias work, feedback, restorative practices, universal design. I’m not sure where you got the idea that I’m pushing you to stop requiring hard work and “just let the students play games.” Fun was one of many items listed, but it was introduced in the context of relationship-building, the importance of which I’m sure you wouldn’t dismiss.

      It sounds like you’re doing a very good job in your classroom, and maybe you are one of the rare teachers who don’t need any improvement. Just know that many excellent teachers respond to posts like this one feeling validated that they are doing the right thing, that they are on the right track, and maybe they see a few areas where they can improve. Every outstanding teacher I have ever worked with has had an incredibly strong growth mindset about their teaching: They never stop trying to get better. I hope that you may someday reach a point in your career when a post like this doesn’t offend you, because you see how worthwhile the suggestions are.

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