WASHINGTON, DC – As COVID-19 continues to strain the public education, teachers are finding creative ways to help students finish out the school year curriculum from home.
With many school systems closed through the end of the school year, educators are reaching out to each other as resources, developing food delivery system for their students, and teaching remotely as a means to support their classes.
“I like to think of our teachers and all the support that work in that school as keeping the home fires burning, we are keeping the lights on. Schools are closed for the safety of our students, but there is nothing but buzz going on in the education world, because teachers are as creative as we’ve ever had to be,” Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President of the National Education Association [NEA] told 104.7 WONK FM’s Jen Richer. “We are trying to figure out how we can connect with our 30 something students that would have been sitting in our classroom, while they’re sitting at their kitchen table.”
Teachers have been partnering with parents to facilitate distance learning, which has been eye-opening for many parents.
“Bless our parents, too, because parents are calling the teachers and they’re going, ‘I had no idea.’ They’re sending us virtual hugs and roses, going, ‘ I’ve got two or three kids sitting at my table and they’re driving me nuts. How do you do this with 30-something kids every day,’ Eskelsen Garcia says.
Under the stay-at-home order, parents are also strained. Eskelsen Garcia says, “a lot of those parents are home being expected to work from home, if they have the kind of jobs [where] they can be up online, and so they are trying to juggle their own lives, but they do appreciate what teachers are trying to do.”
The transition hasn’t been easy for the education community. “I’m an elementary [school] teacher. You can’t flip a switch and say, ‘here’s what you did today, and let’s just do that digitally tomorrow,’ It doesn’t work that way,” Eskelsen Garcia says. “We’re having to build this plane while it’s going down the runway and hope that if flies.”
The NEA has been taking the feedback from their 3 million members and working to close the gap on some of these challenges.
“Teachers are connecting with each other, getting ideas from each other, across the country. It’s one of the things that the National Education Association can do with all our state affiliates and our thousands of local district affiliates. We have over 3 million members who are teachers and support staff in public schools, and ...we’re becoming our own students,” she says.
One of the challenges teachers face is tailoring their lessons to both the individual students learning abilities, but also their access to technology. Eskelson Garcia says, “Not all my kids have the same access to technology, so what you are doing over here because you are serving kids in a community that all the parents might have their own computers or tablets, or wifi, my kids are in this rural community and they don’t have access, so the creativity [becomes] more than just designing something meaningful and putting it on a video.”
Education isn’t the only challenge teachers are trying to overcome, many students also rely on the school for meals.
“Some teachers [have] told me, ‘our lunch ladies and bus drivers are still showing up every morning. They’re making lunch, they’re putting it on the bus, they’re telling the kids to come to the bus stop [and] the bus will come up and we will deliver your lunch to you, and by the way your teachers delivered your homework packet because in this community you probably don’t have access to technology,’” Eskelsen Garcia explains.
Despite these challenges, educators and school staffers are stepping up to the challenge nationwide.
“This isn’t going to be like a snow day, where you think, ‘schools maybe closed for a day or two, or three,’ we’re saying school could be closed for a month, or two, or three and we cannot in good conscience as the teachers simply say, ‘well we didn’t know how to do it so,” we can’t just shrug our shoulders,” Eskelsen Garcia says.