By Van Schoales
Educators, like many health and other essential workers are stepping up in remarkable ways to serve students and families. Jimmy Fallon said and sang it well on last night’s Tonight Show, Many Colorado educators spend far more time than they did a few months ago connecting with students remotely, on their porches or through phone calls to comfort and support students with their academic learning.
We have heard remarkable stories of teachers going far beyond the expectations of their schools to connect with students and their families. Most elementary teachers are checking in with students as a group and many individually on a daily basis.
High schools are different with more students having “asynchronous” learning where students are working on assignments on their own or with other groups of students. There are often fewer daily contacts in high schools than with elementary age students but nevertheless an expectation that students turn in assignments weekly with the same workload as would be expected during normal school. It’s also important to remember that high school teachers typically have student loads of over 120 students while elementary teachers often have fewer than 30 students to support.
We know that most schools will not be going back to in-person learning this year and many schools will have to be prepared with additional closures this summer and fall if the COVID-19 virus returns to a particular community. It is looking like what is the new normal now, may be the new normal on and off over the 2020-21 school year.
Understandably, the first month or two of this crisis, states and school districts were focused on crisis management in terms of getting food to vulnerable families and pivoting to remote teaching. It has been a huge lift for schools and teachers understanding that many teachers also have kids at home that they are juggling to support while they are working.
The question now is what should be the expectations for teachers? We know it was important to give grace to schools, educators and families in the month of transition to this new normal but what should be expected?
Should there be daily contact with students? Should attendance be taken? Should student work be graded? Should there be a detailed teaching day schedule for students and teachers? Time for planning?
Existing teacher contracts provide some guidance but say little about the guide rails for what should be expected for teachers supporting students from their own homes. Many districts have created new MOU’s for remote learning.
A number of organizations including the National Center on Teacher Quality, The Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) and here at A+ Colorado have been surveying and reviewing publicly available data on how school districts are adjusting to school being done remotely.
There currently appears to be an incredible range of expectations with some districts not expecting teachers to take attendance or grade student work while others expect there to be significant changes given the remote circumstances but that teachers be expected to deliver instruction at the level they did prior to COVID. The most recent review by CRPE shows that 60% of the districts being monitored require teacher check-ins with students and 41% are required to assign student work grades.
Some districts are expecting the same level of workload for students and teachers while others like Los Angeles Unified have decided a 20-hour school week is good enough.
There were enormous gaps by race and income prior to COVID. Pushing everyone to remote learning will dramatically exacerbate the gaps as some families have the equipment, internet and family resources to support learning while other families will struggle for a variety of reasons including their parents losing their jobs.
Educators have been called upon once again to go above and beyond to support the needs of their students and families. When they return to their classrooms, they will likely be faced with unprecedented learning losses, and wider variability in where students are coming back to the classroom. Now is the time for districts and school leaders to find a way to support teachers in what will be one of the most challenging school years they’ve ever faced.