2 years later, what have we learned about teaching in times of a pandemic? (Opinion)
The new question of the week is:
What lessons have teachers learned since the first school closures two years ago?
My friend, colleague, and co-author Katie Hull Sypnieski and I co-wrote this answer to the question.
We are both seasoned teachers in the Sacramento City Unified School District and have co-authored several books on teaching English language learners.
Listen to the teachers
It’s been almost two years since many of us first closed our physical classrooms due to COVID-19.
Time has not passed quickly for many of us, including those of us who are teachers.
Here are some lessons we learned from these 24 months:
The lack of qualified leadership in many, but not all, districts became evident. Many districts have made – and continue to make – misstep after misstep, including but not limited to: not understanding the difference between fairness and equality when schools first closed in providing the same support to all students instead of more to English language learners, students with learning differences and those experiencing other academic difficulties; refusing to genuinely engage with teachers and their unions – and students and their families – in deciding how to respond to the pandemic; and failing to anticipate and prepare robust virtual options for students and families who were not ready to return to school in person.
Unfortunately, these three blind spots will likely continue to harm students, their families, and teachers for a long time to come.
- Our students are generally exceptionally responsible and resilient, perhaps even more so than we once granted them. Sooooooo many of our students have taken full-time jobs to support their families and/or have become caregivers/guardians for younger siblings during the recession caused by the pandemic and distance learning. We have created leadership teams in our student classes who have taken responsibility for leading Zoom Rooms and helped assess and make class changes and have heard countless similar stories of student leadership from students. teachers around the world. Yes, many of our students also experience stress and need mental health support, and we’d bet dollars on donuts that many adults face similar challenges.
- Technology is not the future of personalized learning. Human contact and attention are. God, how many of us teachers have grown weary of personalized learning through the tech refrain repeated by edtech companies and funded by tech-backed foundations? Distance learning might not have been a perfect lab experience for this, but it certainly showed that students and teachers crave human contact, attention, and connection. Greet each student by name, play games with markers and mini whiteboards, and beat teacher-student conversations while sitting at a laptop and being assessed with canned “good job” responses.
- The experience of the pandemic has reinforced the importance of key teaching strategies, including valuing student-centered teaching (their contribution to the content and teaching of lessons related to their lives, their goals and their dreams), providing students with choice, incorporating fun through games, and including scaffolding strategies to maximize student success. In other words, true accelerated learning.
- Many public school critics have rarely let lack of evidence stop them from making their criticisms, and even a pandemic won’t stop them. Many critics have wrongly accused teaching unions of focusing on the needs of adults rather than students at the height of the pandemic when pushing for distance learning (even though it was the good decision for students, families and teachers). Second, many have blamed distance learning as the main, if not the only, reason for students’ academic difficulties (even though education researchers question this cause aD effect for many reasons, including the fact that the vast majority of factors affecting student achievement are non-academic) and used this belief to portray schools choosing short-term closures during the omicron wave as indifferent to students and families. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
- Speaking of which, teachers aren’t superheroes., and whether it maintains safe and healthy working conditions (which are also learning conditions for students); give us the autonomy to use our professional judgment to determine our lessons; and providing adequate pay and benefits are not all priorities for civil servants and districts, so we will leave. And, if we don’t leave immediately, do you really want many of us thinking about it?
- Teachers have always known that a good principal is worth gold, and the pandemic has reinforced that belief as many have held things together in their schools face enormous challenges. Fingers crossed they stay.
- Maybe, just maybe, those who hold the springs of the education scholarship have realized how important school mental health services are for students and for society. Schools have generally been the primary source of mental health support for our students, and in the past it has been mainly us teachers who have informally provided it. Now that the tsunami of trauma caused by the pandemic overwhelmed us, funds have finally been provided to hire real mental health professionals – if they can be found – provide support.
- This last lesson is similar to the first, and it is important enough to repeat: even though many districts made a million decisions without consulting teachers, and MANY of them turned out to be wrong (e.g. , ours district ignored our union’s proposal to create a virtual learning academy last spring, and some students are always waiting in 2022 to be enrolled in the district’s hastily created alternative), many continue to believe they know best and will go their own “non-joyful” path.. Key strategic decisions should not be made without consulting teachers in the classroom, as well as students and their families, because we are all the ones who end up paying the price if and when things go wrong. Sadly, even a pandemic doesn’t seem to be able to teach that lesson to those who need it most.
Unfortunately too, it looks like we will have more time in a pandemic to learn additional lessons.
Good luck to all of us.
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