The last week was stressful for all of us educators, and the coming weeks will provide us with even more challenges, I’m sure.
This is my first year teaching at the collegiate level full-time after teaching for over 20 years in public schools. As the first colleges started to close, I remained positive that we would hold out, that we would keep the students on campus and keep on teaching. Surely this was a temporary measure, surely it would pass. If anything, I was trying to be positive for my students.
Now that we have officially joined the hundreds of other colleges and K-12 schools that have closed, I have seemingly moved through the stages of grief.
Since I have reached the acceptance phase, I can truly say that our teachers are not okay. We know this, and if we don’t we should.
Teachers are being asked to do the impossible with little to no time. Many schools have informed teachers that they will be using remote learning activities for two or three weeks, but to be prepared for a much longer time period. Essentially, they are being asked to stop everything that was working, and continue to make sure that their instruction is as good. Many teachers have responded by consulting peers and online sources, in addition to sharing resources with others through social media.
But the reality is most teachers are angry and uncertain. This time of year is the “sweet spot” time in so many classrooms, where students are hitting their stride and are making gains. For some, they know what these students are going home to and what they will be lacking without the consistent and necessary daily supports the classrooms provided.
They are worried about their students. Will they have food, will they be cared for and will they be ok? Will they see them again before the end of the school year? They thought so, but now it grows more uncertain. Will their students with special needs have the support that they need to be successful?
On top of this, they are also exhausted. They may be trying to figure all of this out while also trying to figure out their own children’s needs. They may have had to drop everything to go and move their children out of colleges and be a supportive parent through the emotional struggles that our college students (especially seniors) are going through. They may be dealing with financial hardships and health issues of their own.
Many esteemed and talented educators have written about how to teach in a remote learning environment; they have developed tutorials and resources to share in this time of need. Multiple edtech resources have offered free limited subscriptions for students and teachers, and social media groups have exploded with people sharing resources and ideas in every group that I am a part of.
So in some areas, we have a great deal of support and we have resources.
Are We Doing This All For Nothing?
However, are we doing this all for nothing? According to Education Week, as of March 19th, 41 states have decided to close public schools—at least 95,000 U.S. schools are closed, are scheduled to close, or were closed and later reopened, affecting at least 43.9. million public school students. 43.9 MILLION students.
If even half of that amount is able to complete online assignments, what happens to those that can’t or won’t? If teachers are busting themselves to try to recreate authentic learning experiences through remote environments and many of their students have to make those assignments up, what then?
I worry about administrations holding teachers accountable or measuring teacher effectiveness during this time when we, as teachers, literally have no way to hold students accountable, nor should we.
So what can or should we do?
I implore states to put a moratorium on testing for the next two years. This year is a wash … even if students do return in time to take the tests, it will take time for some of our students to downshift back into the learning environment.
I also implore administrators to shelve any teacher evaluation methods for the rest of this year. If any teacher is evaluated during this unprecedented crisis, that would be shameful and just plain wrong.
I encourage administrators to check-in frequently with your teachers. Not just by an email to all teachers, but individually—zoom, skype, Facetime— look at their faces once a week and ask what they need. They are the ones on the front-lines now trying to maintain. Ask how you can support them.
Do not require your teachers to report to school even though the students are not there. A week of “training” and preparation work with staff is fine, however, a lot of these teachers have their own kids at home now—the added stress of having to teach remotely, go to work every day and care for their own children is too much.
Administrators should encourage teachers to develop asynchronous learning opportunities and shelve any idea that every teacher will teach their class in real time with the real students. This is going to be an unattainable expectation for so many reasons so this is a time for out-of-the-box thinking on all sides.
We should be remaining as positive as we can for our students, our seniors at both the high school and college level (I have one of those college seniors who was sent home). The emotional and psychological fallout of this crisis will be as much as the academic fallout, if not more.
The kids I worry about so much are those who are not going home to loving home environments with parents who have already created learning schedules for the day and have everything they need to encourage and support their children at home. These kids survive because of what they receive every day at school: a caring teacher, food, friends, safety, and so much more. We need to check on these kids.
So will we get through this? Yes. Will we learn from this? Yes. Will we recover from this? I hope so, though I doubt education will ever go back to “normal.” Will those not in education see the value of our public schools? I hope so—because after the dust settles, I wonder what the “post-corona” educational arena will look like.
Heidi Welch, Ph.D. is the director of music education at Castleton University. In addition to her work at the university, Dr. Welch currently serves as immediate past-president of New Hampshire Music Educators Association, National Association for Music Education collegiate coordinator for Virginia Music Educators Association, and she is a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the ...