With each passing day, we are one step closer to schools on the East Coast reopening while others have already opened and have been forced to change their plans already. Students, teachers, and staff are faced with the possibility that they are putting their lives in jeopardy, and teachers are having to learn to educate kids in a way they’ve never taught before — remotely.
In Massachusetts, some teachers are expected to teach their lessons remotely to students who, from the safety of their own homes, are supposed to learn from teachers who are in their classrooms––inside the school building–– every day.
The thought behind having teachers in their classrooms versus teaching from home? Well, according to Jeff Riley, Massachusetts’s education commissioner, “remote learning will provide familiarity for students by seeing a classroom environment on screen, and will help make the transition back to in-person instruction easier for students.”
I’m not seeing how a Zoom background is going to make it easier for kids to transition back into in-person instruction during a pandemic, when they’ve been out of school since March, and will return to the classroom with masks, plexiglass barriers and no lunchtime or peer-to-peer interactions. Kids don’t care if their teacher is in their home office or classroom desk.
But they probably do care about their teacher’s health and wellbeing, and the lowest risk environment for teachers is in their home, isolated from other people outside of their quarantine bubble. Not only that, but what many are also failing to realize is that many teachers have children of their own who may not be returning to classrooms either. Forcing teachers to find care for their kids so they can sit in an empty classroom just increases the community spread of the virus, and lengthens this pandemic for everyone.
When it’s time for everyone to return to class, teachers can transition back in as well. They are fully capable of doing that.
We have an opportunity for students and teachers alike to stretch new muscles in their learning and teaching. Ryan Stanley, technology director of Alaska’s Educational Resource Center, states in an EdWeek article, “If a school is trying to do what they did, the way they used to deliver instruction, and pick it up into the distance classroom, they’re missing the opportunity.”
As some states remain closed, and some schools open only to close back down again, many teachers are learning about what remote learning truly is (and is not), and what works (and does not) for their students. Students and teachers are learning to bond and communicate in new ways. There is a learning curve there for everyone. It’s not ideal for all children to say the least, and most teachers will tell you they can’t wait to return to normal, in-person instruction with their beloved students.
But the numbers do not lie, and in many states, the number of positive COVID-19 cases continue to increase in some way, whether it’s because of college parties or fall sports training or schools reopening. We are doing something wrong here including forcing some teachers to teach from empty classrooms to serve a purpose that can not be explained.
The president of Massachusetts’s Teachers’ Association, Merrie Najimy, helps shed some light on the issue. “Not only is it paternalistic and shows their fundamental lack of trust for a field that is dominated by women to know how to do their jobs in the best way — it’s punitive,” Najimy states in an interview with reporter Carrie Jung on Edify.
There are safer options for all and returning to the classroom as if COVID-19 will just disappear, allows us to all wallow in a kind of purgatory that we should not be in, and just about guarantees us another lockdown this fall. If students are learning remotely, their teachers should not be forced out of quarantine and into the classroom. They deserve safety and respect, and their virtual lessons can be taught from home.