Many veteran Connecticut teachers are describing the 2020-21 school year as the hardest year they’ve ever faced. They attribute this partially to the stress of the pandemic and its toll on their students, but also to the impossibility of teaching students simultaneously online and in-person.
Virtual learning has been necessary during the pandemic, but it needs to be phased out, teachers say. And if virtual learning does become necessary at any point in future school years, teachers must be focused on either remote instruction or in-person instruction, not both at the same time.
Manchester teacher Kevin Mack is teaching 100 percent remote this year. He was one of dozens of teachers who recently gave testimony over Zoom or submitted written comments to legislators on a bill about virtual learning.
Mack wrote, “My message to you is that remote learning should only be utilized in emergency situations such as the pandemic we are now experiencing. There is no way that it can replace the face-to-face personalized experience of a classroom.”
Teachers shared that switching attention between remote and in-person learners creates an impossible scenario where one group of students is always being left out. Creating lessons for both remote and in-person learners also means teachers have had to double the amount of time they spend planning.
“On a daily basis I have approximately eight students in front of me and about 12 or so at home,” wrote Elsa Batista, a Newington world language teacher. “At times, I catch myself just talking and looking at the students logging in from home (so I am looking and talking to a computer). As soon as I realize this is happening, I find myself just looking at the students in my class and not those in the computer. It is a constant back and forth and somewhere in between that game of ping pong, I find that I lose some of my students’ attention.”
CREC teacher Cathy Lee finds inequities and their effect on student learning worsen under virtual learning. Despite her best efforts, she has been unable to make connections with several of her students who are learning remotely, and their learning has consequently suffered.
“Tatiana began the school year in person, but after being sent home to quarantine in the fall, her family decided to keep her home. I had made a connection as she sat in front of me, but the connection has since disappeared,” Lee reported. “I know nothing of Bryan aside from that he logs in late and will respond in the chat when I call his name for attendance. I have not been able to form a connection with him and his algebra skills are suffering because of this. As many teachers around my school, district, state, country, and world will attest this is inhibiting the education of special education students the most. I cannot color code notes, write concrete steps next to problems for students to follow or, as I mentioned earlier, connect with them to create a relationship so that I can better understand how to help them.”
Plainville teacher Amanda Lynch described how dual teaching is harming both students and educators. “Doing two jobs at the same time is impacting the emotional health of teachers and the quality of their teaching. As a result, the academics of students are being put at risk. Teaching both in person and livestreaming is ineffective, as a teacher cannot give 100% to each group. Teachers are feeling like failures.”
Lynch wrote that every day she has a single lesson interrupted five or six times for a technology issue. Multiplied by a minimum of five lessons every day, the technology related interruptions are constant.
Ridgefield High School teacher Denise Barrett has also been teaching under a hybrid model this year.
“I have to say that, within my 10 plus years of teaching, this past year has been the toughest in my entire career,” Barret wrote. “It doesn’t matter how much I modify an activity, or how creative I try to be with a lesson, the students are just simply not engaged. They do not talk to one another anymore, they would rather type their responses and communicate that way.”
Fellow Ridgefield teacher Megan Osimanti has experienced remote learning as both a teacher and a parent.
“When schools are deemed safe enough for students to be there at full capacity, distance learning should not be an open option for students to still access,” she told legislators. “My own children try to access other entertaining devices like their phones, Nintendo switches, etc. out of view of their teachers on screen. They often hold onto questions or concerns about what they are learning, avoiding what they determine to be the awkward unmuting option. Their teachers sometimes aren’t able to respond to a chat message or email in real time and then they are left to move on without clarity.”
Osimanti concluded, “We must not let our children down by perpetuating a system of learning that has shown us more flaws than benefits.”
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