As the pandemic continues to turn our world upside down, we are all off balance ---anxious and stressed as we adjust to our new reality. While this crisis forced the unprecedented closing of our school buildings and an abrupt and unexpected shift to online instruction, all of our members have made enormous efforts to keep instruction uninterrupted and children learning. I have never been prouder to represent them. However, I have also never been more disheartened over the stress levels of our hard-working members.
The rapid shift from our traditional classrooms to online learning was not easy. During the initial days of the shutdown, our educational professionals burned the midnight oil in an effort to create new lessons and explore the best platforms to deliver instruction digitally. They took on the challenge, collaborated and worried over how they would help their students. Once permitted, teachers made a quick run to their classrooms to gather instructional materials for lessons intended for a temporary distance learning plan for a two-week school closure.
Now we have determined that our schools will be closed for much more than two weeks. We face the question: what should instruction look like in the middle of a crisis? How do our dedicated teachers support the intellectual and emotional needs of children via computer? We can explore the advice provided by teachers who have already lived through this in China and Italy. They say: "Look at your curriculum, then cut it in half and then cut it some more. Do not expect a student to sit in front of a screen for extended periods of time." We cannot mirror a typical school day, nor can we assume that a teacher teaching from a Chromebook at her kitchen table while trying to support her own family to a student on his Chromebook while babysitting his younger siblings can produce the learning outcomes she does in the classroom. This cannot be business as usual. Academic expectations need to be reevaluated, and Social Emotional learning should be emphasized.
A classroom is a community in which a teacher takes great pains to work with students in developing trust, and security. The courage to take risks while learning new things is an integral component in the learning experience. Zoom and Google meet do not duplicate that. We miss our kids. We know that they miss us. We all want the normalcy to return to our lives. We want to see our students’ faces.
Certainly, the notion of a “live” learning platform understandably appealed to parents who were anxious to protect their children’s education and the familiar routines and faces that make kids feel secure. However, creating a distance plan is a complex order, particularly for a faculty that has had no previous need for or experience with distance learning.
Before the pandemic, parents sought to reduce screen time whenever possible, citing studies about how damaging it can be, particularly for younger children. Real life experiences and family time provide so much more enrichment. Yet, we find ourselves participants in, not only a long day of screen time, but a tight schedule of learning that does not address a family’s need for flexibility to complete lessons at a more convenient time. How many children need assistance with learning in a household at the same time? How much technology is available with parents also working from home? What does the bandwidth allow? If your child is one who is struggling with a concept should that be open knowledge for the other parents of students in the class who are watching instruction with their children on a live platform at that time? There are FERPA laws that need to be adhered to. How do we protect against others recording live sessions and posting them? When a student makes an error, is someone else recording that and adding a humorous caption that will make its way to social media? Also, we must determine whether “Zoombombing,” the hacking into live sessions to disseminate pornography or offensive language, can be effectively prevented. Then, there is the personal data about your child that these platforms collect. Is that information truly secure? With increased reliance on technology, comes the increase potential for hackers. Has permission been granted and confidentiality waived for all participants?
Speaking of privacy, working within a live platform is essentially like inviting the community into your home. Perhaps not everyone has a home environment that they are comfortable displaying to their classmates on the Internet. Some children may lack even a quiet place to participate in a lesson. Even the everyday occurrences of siblings playing, babies crying, phones ringing, adults talking, or dogs barking can be a distraction for students and teachers working at home. Thus, we must trust teachers to make the determination about whether a live platform is appropriate for their class and their own homes and families.
It is understandable that there would be questions in the community. We all want the best for our children. A few POB residents have used social media to cast doubt on our commitment to our students during this difficult time. Such suggestions are especially insulting now when our teachers have been working so much more than what any distance learning plan mandated. Since the school closing, our days have been well beyond the seven-hour contractual day that some point out in our contract, but there will always be naysayers who can’t imagine our hard work, the meetings we attend, the time spent contacting families, and lost sleep as we worry about our students and lessons. To the many parents and students who took the time to email our members thanking them for making the world a little happier during this difficult time, thank you, thank you, thank you for remembering that in the face of adversity, it is always best to be kind. During these difficult days, we hope that you and your families remain in good health.
President, Plainview-Old Bethpage
Congress of Teachers