Every morning, my husband drives across town. First, he gulps water: he won’t have access to any for hours. He sanitizes his hands, pulls on a medical-grade mask, then a cloth mask. He sanitizes his hands again. After he’s geared up, he goes into his classroom, where he sets up his tech rig: mic, camera, monitors. Depending on the day, two to eight students might sit in each of his classes, all separated from him and each other by about ten feet and two layers of plexiglass. Every other student in his classes learns virtually. He’s doubling up his teaching, and it’s criminal.
He’s effectively teaching two classes. One class sees him staring at a camera and doing his best to look around at them as much as he can. The other class sees him masked up with no facial expression whatsoever over a computer screen.
This practice of doubling up, “simultaneous teaching,” or “concurrent” is becoming a popular mode in many districts where some students need to learn from home and others want to return to school. From an administrator’s out-of-touch point-of-view, it’s ideal: it saves staff and pacifies parents who demand in-person learning. Doubling up can be that school board compromise they need.
However, The Washington Post points out that we’re eager to bring children back into classrooms that have been closed since last spring, especially since the CDC says that as long as proper guidelines are followed, risks of reopening are minimal. But most schools don’t have enough capacity to maintain distancing guidelines. Doubling up becomes their solution.
But Doubling Up Is Unsustainable
My husband’s lucky: he manages much better than most teachers asked to double up, even if he is a ball of stress who comes home most days, collapses, and chugs water (he can’t drink in a mask, and he can’t leave his students alone, so his chances to drink are few and far between). According to The New York Times, Sarah Gross, a veteran high school English teacher in New Jersey asked to double up, said on a Twitter thread that, “I have NEVER been this exhausted… This is not sustainable.” Some educators say that by doubling up, their workloads have (hah) doubled.
In The New York Times article about teacher stress, doubling up was singled out as a particular cause of teacher stress.
“You’re trying to be two people at once, trying to help the students who are online and the students who are in front of you,” Ms. Gross told The New York Times. She added that usually students online can’t hear students in her classroom. While doubling up, she has to monitor her in-person students for masking and social distancing issues while she helps her online students with tech issues. My husband often finds himself ordering students to pull up their masks (which his entire class hears) while fielding private-chat questions from students, one after another after another.
Teachers deal with unbearable stress — so unbearable that the Minnesota governor signed a bill saying teachers could not be ordered to teach virtually and in-person at once, according to The Washington Post — and students lose out.
Doubling Up Has Major Problems
An Edweek article details several case studies of teachers asked to do hybrid learning. Jennifer Atkins, a 7th grade teacher in Texas, says that she has the same problem teachers frequently complain about with virtual models of schooling: kids logging in and …? “Without being here and constantly reminded to stay on task, it is probably enticing to log into the meeting and then just walk away,” she says. When teachers are asked to double up, some of their students are obviously forced to engage and do the work, while others may log on and disappear — and there’s nothing they can do about it. Atkins says, “It’s nothing short of exhausting… it’s like teaching two classes in the same period.”
According to Kansas’s NPR affiliate, teachers doubling up say “they have twice the workload while splitting their focus between online and in-person students, giving neither the attention they deserve.” If we’re all so worried about kids “falling behind,” why aren’t we listening to teachers, who say that doubling up worsens the problem — and that all-virtual could lessen the blow COVID-19 has on student progress?
It’s so bad that NPR reports Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has said doubling up needs to end. “Hybrid doesn’t work,” she says. “You can’t livestream and teach in-person at the same time.”
The Bottom Line
Teachers going into classrooms are already putting their lives on the line when they see students face-to-face: while no one knows how many educators have died of COVID-19, the American Federation of Educators have identified at least 530, according to The New York Times. A photo in this article by The Washington Post shows a first-grade teacher wearing a clear plastic mask that doesn’t appear to properly cover the sides of her face, as per CDC guidelines on cloth face masks with clear plastic panels. Until our teachers are vaccinated, they will be at risk when they do their jobs.
Meanwhile, doubling up virtual and in-person classes multiplies their workload, increasing their stress levels in an already stressful profession at probably the most stressful time in recent history.
We don’t pay teachers enough to do one job, let alone two.
Like the President of the American Federation of Teachers said, this practice of doubling up needs to end: for our students’ sake, of course, but most of all for our exhausted, overworked teachers.
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