It’s that time of year when schools start back up. There have been many heated debates about how this should happen during the Covid-19 pandemic. I assure you, no matter what you think, it’s a bad idea. Go back with social distancing: teachers fear contracting it, no collaboration, isolation while in the same room as others. Hybrid model: similar issues as going back live with the added stress of creating asynchronous lessons. Keep things locked down: the kids lose in this scenario. Then there is the virtual model. THIS is what our district is doing.
This was like a multiple choice quiz with NO right answers.
A little background. In July, our school board made the tough decision to go back virtually. They were faced with nothing but wrong choices. This was like a multiple choice quiz with NO right answers. This was preceded by several weeks of debates, parents and teachers giving public comments, a previous meeting at which the decision was postponed. My point is that our board took this decision seriously. Then, here in California, the governor created guidelines based on Covid numbers as to which schools would be teaching virtually and which could entertain the idea of going back face to face. Then began the task of figuring out how to do this.
Of all the conversations that were had: how to do all virtual? What will it look like to young learners? How will we do OT? What will intervention look like? How can we prepare teachers in 3 days (all the PD we get normally with the calendar)? How will we get students the supplies needed? How can we get books into kids’ hands? What impact will this have on students’ mental health? How can we keep kids engaged? We also needed to adhere to the compliance pieces that the state rolled out. And so many other questions and discussions. No where in there did we – district or nation – address the mental health of educators. This is probably one of the biggest oversights of this situation.
It will take time and adjustments to get to a place of greatness.
This virtual thing, on such a mass scale, is new to everyone. While districts are communicating, each has come up with their own plan. Some are doing it better than others from what I’ve heard, but I don’t believe anyone is doing it with great success. That is not a criticism, rather an honest statement. How can anyone or any entity do something with great success the first time? It will take time and adjustments to get to a place of greatness. The key will be to adapt as we go along. The districts that stick to their original plan will most likely fail.
This is the schedule our district has adopted. A/B groups for TK – 5 and whole groups for 6 – 8.
Our middle school has done this for four days and our elementary has done it for a day or two. Teachers are drowning. Let me be clear on this. While teachers feel overwhelmed and underprepared, they are giving it their all. There isn’t a teacher in our district that is taking it lightly or giving up. They are all looking for the silver linings. I am in awe of our teachers.
Not only are our teachers struggling with this new model, but our families are too. Many teachers don’t see how this model is sustainable. Our teachers are online most of the day. They are exhausted and then have 1/2 hour to have office hours, check work, give feedback, and contact families, and plan lessons.
Now, let’s compound the virtual learning issue by adding Covid-19 Slide to it. It’s like the summer slide, but Covid related. According to a research firm, “The report estimated that, on average, students could lose seven months of learning during the pandemic, compared to 10 months for Black students and nine months for Hispanic students. ” (Georgia State University). So for a district like mine – Title 1, 100% free lunch, and a high percentage of Latino students – this is even more stressful. That means a 5th grader coming into this is really more like a beginning 4th grader IF they were at grade level before the pandemic hit. If that 5th grader was below grade level before March 13, the gap is even larger. Not only do we need to teach the standards, but we need to fill gaps. Then, there is the dreaded state test. NOW would be a really great time to explore their actual importance to education (Hint: they’re not. They only are important to the test makers because they make money. It’s a racket.) If you worry that your child/student is behind, don’t worry. This is a global problem. All kids are ‘behind’. And let’s face it, they are arbitrary measures to begin with. The kids will be fine in the long run. Point being, the teachers have to teach the standards/content that students have difficulty accessing.
So what can be done? If you’re a teacher, be kind to yourself. You don’t need to do it all. If something isn’t working, speak up. You might not be the only one with those thoughts. Know that it will get easier. Rely on others, collaborate. If you’re district administration, listen to what your teachers are saying. They are the boots on the ground and are experiencing it in real time. Better yet, shadow a teacher for a day or week. Experience what they do daily. Don’t even think of uttering the phrase, “Fidelity to the curriculum.” Reach out to teachers to find out what is working, what isn’t, and where more support is needed. If you are a policy maker, for the love of all that is good, cancel all standardized tests for the foreseeable future! Create policies with actual teacher input.
To all of my teacher friends, I am here for you. To parents, please be kind, forgiving, patient, and understanding. Teachers are human. They have families. They are worried for your child’s education, too. They really are doing their best.