English Education Article, July 2022 - NCTE

With the pandemic’s disruption of schooling, K–12 students were ostensibly “on average five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading by the end of the [2021] school year” (Dorn et al., 2021, para. 2). Donnelly and Patrinos (2021) identified student learning loss across different subjects, grade levels, and countries. As the “indispensable flashlight” (Betebenner & Wenning, 2021, p. 15) of standardized assessments shows, students now are not where students were before—although I do question the advisability of assessing anything during a pandemic, much less student learning.

With disruption continuing to ripple across our educational landscape, we will continue to identify and examine any number of outcomes connected to and radiating from this virological earthquake in our cultural, political, and societal waters. While I have little faith in “well-established statewide data collection efforts to help us understand and ultimately mitigate the impact of the pandemic on students” (Betebenner & Wenning, 2021, p. 14), I have no doubt educators at all levels will be working to understand and mitigate the impact of this pandemic for years to come. I know teacher educators will. How do we teach preservice teachers, who are also students disoriented by the last few years, as they learn to be teachers who will work with students struggling with the effects of that same trauma, when we are also adjusting to personal and professional loss?

But I still question peering through the looking glass of learning loss. Learning is not something you lose; it is something you do. Learning is active, actionable, engaging, engaged. Learning is not a thing that disappears into the woods or slips behind the sofa cushions or wanders through a wardrobe. Learning is a process, an endeavor, an ever-present opportunity in times of trouble such as this.

Oh, I know I’m being pedantic, so don’t @ me. But “learning is a complex process rooted in students’ social, cultural, and human development, not a narrow series of skills that are either gained or ‘lost’” (Fishman, 2021, para. 7). What is so quickly labeled as learning loss is perhaps better understood as lost opportunities, lost possibilities—and for some students, education has always been so (e.g., Darling-Hammond, 2007; Love, 2019; Valenzuela, 1999, 2019).

We can learn from what we lose, though, with education becoming a process of addition through subtraction. And education should be loss: of outdated understandings, of ill-informed ideas, of misrepresented truths and intentional lies.

By recognizing what has been taken away, perhaps we can acknowledge what we have and, more importantly, what we now need so as to engage in the action of learning.
Mike P. Cook’s “ELA Teachers and Whiteness: Hesitancy as Barrier to Teacher Agency Development” opens the research section. This qualitative study examines white preservice ELA teachers’ efforts to both develop and maintain agency. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the preservice teachers in this study struggled with agentive action in their secondary ELA classroom placements despite their beliefs in teachers as change agents. However, their struggles offer insight into how the loss of “passive manifestations of whiteness” (p. 287) may support the development of agency and the enactment of equity.
In their article “Preparation and Practice: Preservice English Teachers’ Experiences in Learning to Facilitate Text-Based Discussions,” Rosalie Hiuyan Chung and Natasha A. Heny examine the use of mixed-reality simulations to teach the facilitation of classroom discussion. Their work is driven, in part, by the recognition that “diminished and unreliable physical access to school placements due to COVID-19” (p. 294) requires teacher educators to reconfigure preservice teachers’ learning experiences. The use of mixed-reality simulations may be supported by the loss of the physical classroom, but approximations of teaching may also offer preservice teachers a different space for meaningful learning.
The two essays in the (Re)Active Praxis section illustrate the connections between loss and learning—and the importance of reflection in making those connections. In “What Happens When You Read About Racism?” Madison Gannon, Jennifer Ervin, and Lemell Overton reflect on their development of and involvement in an antiracist book club for preservice ELA teachers. While initially concerned that the book club had lost its intended purpose of supporting antiracist pedagogy, they came to see the club’s collaborative identity development as an unintended benefit. Valerie Lieberman Marsh also considers identity in “Disrupting Segregated Knowledge Flows: Reflections from an Evolving Abolitionist.” Reflecting on an experience of “subtle racism” (p. 342), she considers how disrupting racialized knowledge means losing taken-for-granted understandings in order to authentically grow as an abolitionist educator.
Mandie Bevels Dunn provides the only piece intentionally focused on loss in this issue. In “Teaching While Grieving a Death: Navigating the Complexities of Relational Work, Emotional Labor, and English Language Arts Teaching,” Dunn examines how ELA teachers manage the emotions resulting from personal loss. The relational nature of teaching means emotion is intrinsically embedded in the work of teaching and learning. Yet, as Dunn’s research reveals, navigating grief highlights the complexity of how and why teachers express emotion with students and col-leagues when, as one participant explained, “You’re supposed to leave the ugly parts of yourself at home and deal with those later” (p. 324).
Ignoring the ugly parts of our work is a loss in and of itself. We do hard things; we make hard choices; we also make mistakes—all of which can be very ugly, literally, metaphorically, emotionally, intellectually. So, we learn from the ugly parts, as well as the difficult, frustrating, heart-wrenching parts.
Because we learn when we are willing to lose. That’s part of what it means to be alive.
References
Betebenner, D. W., & Wenning, R. J. (2021). Understanding pandemic learning loss and learning recovery: The role of student growth & statewide testing. Center for Assessment. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED611296.pdf
Calefati, J. (2021, December 6). “This is a disaster”: Severity of learning lost to the pandemic comes into focus. Politico. https://www.politico.com/newsletters/weekly-education/2021/12/06/this-is-a-disaster-severity-of-learning-lost-to-the-pandemic-comes-into-focus-799278
Darling-Hammond, L. (2007). The flat earth and education: How America’s com-mitment to equity will determine our future. Educational Researcher, 36(6), 318–334.
Donnelly, R., & Patrinos, H. A. (2021). Learning loss during Covid-19: An early sys-tematic review. Prospects. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11125-021-09582-6
Dorn, E., Hancock, B., Sarakatsannis, J., & Viruleg, E. (2021, July 27). COVID-19 and education: The lingering effects of unfinished learning. McKinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/education/our-insights/covid-19-and-education-the-lingering-effects-of-unfinished-learning
Fishman, E. (2021). How the rhetoric of “learning loss” is harming schools. The Progressive. https://progressive.org/public-schools-advocate/learning-loss-harm ing-schools-fishman-210404/
Love, B. L. (2019). We want to do more than survive: Abolitionist teaching and the pursuit of educational freedom. Beacon Press.

Murakami, H. (2006). Kafka on the shore. Knopf Doubleday.Ignoring the ugly parts of our work is a loss in and of itself. d268-272-July2022_EE.indd 271d268-272-July2022_EE.indd 2718/1/22 7:22 PM8/1/22 7:22 PM