MAUSD stories, Part 2: Challenges
Editor’s note: This is a project of the Mount Abraham Unified School District’s Community Engagement Committee (CEC). The Addison Independent is hosting this content as a service to the community. Names of the interviewees have been withheld in accordance with the commitments made by the CEC for the project. (Click here to read more about this project.)
Part 2: What have been your biggest challenges or concerns related to your work during this time?
Reading is hard because I’m not really good at it. I’m not really having so much fun because my friends aren’t here. It’s more fun to learn with my friends around. My teacher says she misses our hugs and I tell her I miss her and she says she misses us too.
(The biggest challenge is) not seeing friends; not learning with your friends. It’s lonely because me and my sister are spending lots of time with headphones and looking at the computer. I don’t have any worries for me. But I’m worried about the people who are sick, and who might get it, and not knowing who might have it or not. I miss my teacher and it’s not as fun because I’m just reading instead of listening to her explanations.
The assignments are on new material so I don’t know how we will show what we’ve learned. There will be so much catch-up next year due to the circumstances. How will they assess us? Teachers have lost the accountability piece of it, they don’t have a sure way of knowing kids understand what they’ve been teaching.
I hope we can go say goodbye to our middle school crew teachers before moving on to ninth grade. We’ve had them for two years, and I would like to be able to say goodbye and thank you to them. When we go back, we’ll be freshmen but it will be like “Wait, we never finished middle school. What are we doing?” I also feel super sad for the high school and college seniors missing out on all of the usual celebrations.
I think probably not being able to ask my teachers questions is the biggest challenge. They have been good about responding and answering emails right away, but not being able to have those conversations about assignments can be kind of difficult. Creating a routine has been difficult, you have to create it for yourself. It can be a process to figure out what works for you. In the beginning I was sleeping in a lot and going to bed really late to get my work done. Now I am trying to get to bed earlier.
Elementary Teacher – Grade 1
A couple of challenges! One challenge is supporting my own kids. It’s tricky. There are days when they need me and I do not feel available. A second challenge is the screen time we are asking of students who are very young. We are trying to do alternative ways to screen time, alternative activities, limit directions on video to a minute or two so they get what they need and then go off and do a project. It’s hard for me to be on the screen this much. It gave me headaches in the beginning. It takes hours of prep on the screen to create an online learning document for the week. A third challenge is trying to feel connected to my students and families. Even though we do Zoom meetings it’s not the same as having personal connections. We have done really cool creative things for kids and families, but it is not the same. And fourth, the whole equity piece has been a struggle — to be able to say that every kid is getting an equitable education: Families have very different attitudes about screen time, different levels of comfort with technology, as well as different levels of access to the internet. Some people want paper packets, some access our online learning document, others pick and choose. I do not know that we can say kids are getting an equitable education. I feel for families because not everyone is in the same place or has the same resources.
Middle School Teacher – Grades 7-8
The hardest part is making sure each student is learning, since there are so many variables and not much real interaction. Our team has decided to do asynchronous teaching, which means that there are NO set times for the entire class to congregate on Zoom. Instead, I check in with students individually, which takes much longer, given the nature of everyone’s varying schedules, etc. We decided this because of equity — not every student can participate at the same time because of different situations at home. Asking all students to sign on at one time might be more difficult and problematic for some, since it seems very difficult to demand usage on a shared family computer with parents and siblings all working from home. For some students, there may be spotty internet service; or there may be shyness about sharing a home situation; maybe an unpredictable family situation doesn’t allow for set times. Like most teachers, I am just rolling with the new normal, and working harder than ever to keep up with this model.
I’m not working more, necessarily (there are only so many hours in the day); I’m just juggling more. AND I’m wondering if the same amount of output from me is resulting in same amount of learning for all students (I know that it isn’t). I recognize that students’ wellbeing is first and foremost. This was a directive from administration. But what does this look like? How much can/should be postponed in light of the situation we’re in? How do we reach the students who don’t have the skills, and parents’ know-how to advocate during this time, if/when something isn’t making sense? I don’t feel like an expert at this distance-learning thing by any stretch of the imagination… I feel like there are many other teachers who are doing this better than I am.
High School Teacher
The biggest challenge is being on the computer too much! I teach science so doing something to take the place of hands-on science activities has been the most regrettable part. We’ve been doing a unit on climate change with a lot of hands-on labs and in our next unit we had plans to look at the sustainability of a dairy farm and go to a farm. We did it last year and it was a wonderful project. To not do that, and having to adjust to meeting those sustainability learning targets, without being able to to experience it together, and experience it hands-on, that’s been unfortunate. That’s been a big challenge!
One concern is not being able to connect with students one on one. Certainly seeing them face to face, trying to meet their needs, check in on them … sometimes that’s been hard … not to be able to have eyes on them. “How are they doing?” We sometimes do a lot of frantic calling and emailing because we’re concerned and can’t get answers right away.”
Well, it’s really dynamic — every week is significantly different qualitatively. In the first couple of weeks, it seemed impossible and, teachers were upset and there weren’t systems and the expectations weren’t clear and there was all this technology to learn in very short time frames, and just an enormous pressure on everyone the first couple of weeks. And then once some things were put in place and the expectations became clearer, and the timeline stretched out a little bit, people started to solve problems. We were solving problems at such an enormous pace. Everyone was. At all levels. Once we kind of sorted things out, and solved a bunch of problems, then we started to get into a routine. Then there were still individual people who would get overwhelmed, and I could work with them individually, as opposed to the whole. So things have definitely gotten easier — although the workload, just the sheer amount of things that need to be done, is still dense. But it’s much more manageable — much less emotionally fraught for everyone.
High School Principal
Schools have an energy, an infectious energy that keeps you coming in every day and keeps your “why” at the forefront. Not having personal connections with students and watching the magic of learning happening is incredibly challenging. Educators are in the business for students, we get our energy and passion from them. Not seeing and interacting with them regularly has been difficult.
Another challenge has been the amount of unknowns we work with every day. We are always waiting for more guidance from the state and the list of unanswered questions seems to get longer and longer. Not having answers for students, families and our faculty can be tough. So you answer what you can, provide supports, and keep the lines of communication open and information flowing as often as is feasible.
The biggest challenge initially was figuring out “What’s happening? And when?” Then we got clarity on school closing, and the next challenge was bringing people together to plan how we would respond. There were many groups that collaborated on this work, led by the administrative team and coordinators. Now it’s a juggling act with all of the various needs, tying in with support structures, fine-tuning what we are doing.
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