There is much debate and concern over how to start the 2020-2021 school year and every Board of Education across the country have the unenviable task of deciding how to proceed – bricks and mortar, online, or a hybrid of the two.
I thought our county and school system did a tremendous job educating our children last term. They went above and beyond the call of duty in learning how to use online teaching platforms and adjusting their objectives and lesson plans to work while teaching their students in a distance learning capacity. The reality is, however, online school or a hybrid of online and physical attendance will never, in my opinion, equal the education children receive by attending school five days a week and interacting with the class teacher, their peers, and other faculty or volunteers.
The first few weeks of a new school year are important. This is the time children and teachers learn about each other. But what does this look like if children are working from home in a variety of environments? As teachers, we will not know the routines and expectations of every household. We cannot accommodate for every circumstance. If parents are able to go to their place of business, where are the children? Do we then expect babysitters, day cares, or family members to support the child’s learning? How do we as classroom teachers, meet the needs of all students trying to learn in such a wide range of environments and with differing schedules?
As class teachers we establish routines so that children know what to expect every day. In establishing boundaries, classroom rules, and expectations, we ensure the children feel a sense of security. Students know and rely on our set timetable, anticipate what will happen as they progress through the school day, and feel safe in the knowledge that these expectations apply to everyone in the classroom, which allows them to focus on their school work.
Classroom teachers spend a great deal of time and money creating enabling environments for their students. We stock our classrooms so that children have all the resources they will need to complete assignments and have fun! From the playdough, paint, and building materials in the early years to the science experiments and games in middle and high school. Teachers not only offer the use of technology in the classroom, we are required to use technology in lessons. Thus, we have computers, iPads and internet availability. We constantly look for ways to engage the students with their learning and pique their interest so that they will want to become life-long learners.
Teachers carefully consider the layout of the classroom and the accessibility of materials. We model methods of organizing and caring for resources and teach students how to establish good practices when carrying out and turning in assignments. Children learn executive functioning skills that will help them throughout their school career and into adulthood.
One of the joys of the first term is getting to know our students. Finding out about their personalities, interests, and goals, and making a connection. We build a mutually trusting and respectful relationship with our students through shared experiences in the classroom. Furthermore, school is as much about social and emotional education as it is about academics. For how can children succeed if they do not know how to actively listen, concentrate, confidently and respectfully share their ideas and value the ideas of others, cooperate with peers, persevere when learning is difficult, or organize their space and work.
Teachers want their classroom to be a safe place in which children can work hard, try new things, and know it is ok to fail occasionally. By supporting students to bounce back from failure and try again, teachers help them to build resilience and persevere. We look for those “extra few minutes” to provide extra practice and reassurance. We reflect on the days’ lessons so that we can determine when and how best to support a struggling student. We also consider how to extend learning and challenge those students who need stretching, who mastered a skill or concept easily.
As teachers, we value our colleagues and the time spent sharing ideas and reflecting on our practice. We need our meetings with other professionals, such as speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, counselors, and social workers, so that we are providing the best opportunities for children to succeed, especially those children who have individual learning needs. Often, it is not enough to follow a strategy one or two times. As classroom teachers following the advice of other supporting professionals, we plan activities specifically to meet learning goals several times a week. The parents are also given strategies to do at home. This layering and repetition is what enables the child to master a concept and succeed. How do we ensure this all happens when children are not in the classroom, colleagues are unable to confer and support families, and parents, who already overwhelmed with work, are taking on a teacher’s responsibilities?
Teachers also support families. That “quick chat” at the beginning or end of the day can reassure and support parents and carers as they work with their children. The scheduled meeting with a teacher so that a parent or carer can share difficulties a child may be experiencing at home (such as a divorce, death of a loved one, or illness). The note sent in letting school know of a child’s accomplishment outside of school so that it can be recognized and celebrated by their peers. These open lines of communication allow teachers to foster positive relationships with students as well as their families, so that we can all support students to achieve.
So much goes into a child’s learning, much of it taking place behind the scenes. With the best will in the world, we cannot expect the same rigour or comprehensive education from a part time, online schedule as we provide to children attending school full time.
For more information, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website’s article “The Importance of Reopening America’s Schools this Fall” (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/reopening-schools.html) or the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) website’s article “ Pediatricians, educators, and Superintendents Urge a Safe Return to School This Fall” (https://services.aap.org/en/news-room/news-releases/aap/2020/pediatricians-educators-and-superintendents-urge-a-safe-return-to-school-this-fall/)