We reached out to teachers to see what their experiences have been like so far this school year. Due to COVID-19, many schools have opted for virtual or hybrid learning. This year has presented teachers with challenges across the curriculum, from disparities in available supplies and limited resources to lack of engagement and attendance.
As parents, it’s important to understand that today’s educators are trying their best to give your kids the education they deserve. Virtual learning is not easy on anyone, and knowing the challenges teachers currently face can help you and your kids adjust to the new circumstances.
Teachers Are Facing Unprecedented Challenges This School Year
When it comes to common problems facing remote learning scenarios, the inequality of resources from student to student presents one of the starkest challenges.
“Sometimes technology and supplies are scarce. We had a huge distribution of devices in April and August in attempts to get devices into students’ hands but students still lack supplies. I have had students tell me they have no paper and pencils at home and I 100% don’t question if they are lying,” said Amanda T., a middle school art teacher working with inner-city kids.
Hannah H., a middle school science teacher points to issues with funding for schools as the culprit. “Teaching remotely and also teaching in person requires a lot of money for a lot of different reasons, but you never hear that we’re getting more funding. They’re always finding reasons or ways to take money away. I think learning online has also caused us to really face the challenge of creating an equitable education for all students.”
“Since most of my students don’t have the resources for activities at home, we have worked to make some online and create new ones using typical household items. We did send items home in their supply bags at the beginning of the year. While there are many changes, one thing will always stay the same for my classroom: it’s a safe space where we can have fun, get to know each other, and become good people,” said Allison K., an elementary school teacher.
A speech language pathologist (SLP), Katrina F. has found teaching remotely has posed new challenges for her students who are unable to learn via a screen. “Not all of my students can learn virtually. Some of my students who are nonverbal have augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices (i.e., a touch screen device with voice output).”
Currently, a stimulus bill sits on the floor of the Senate, which if passed, will provide $105 billion for education funding. With the upcoming presidential election, many members of Congress have chosen to wait to vote on the bill until the election has passed.
Virtual Learning Puts Extreme Pressure On Parents, Educators, And Students
The undue pressure put on educators during the pandemic has had long term impacts on how parents and teachers relate to each other. Many parents are feeling the pressure of working from home while trying to make sure their children are staying tuned into their virtual learning.
“I have had way too many parents and guardians of students tell me that they quit their job because they actually want to help their students get their education. Parents are turning into facilitators at home,” said Amanda. “That then affects income, local jobs and workplaces, stability for the student, and the whole community.”
“Some students aren’t physically able to access technology or physically capable of accessing technology on their own, whether it be due to their age or physical abilities. This requires a guardian or someone to be there and assist the entire session, which may not be feasible for some families,” said Katrina.
While many of the responsibilities of teaching fall to the teachers themselves, deep-rooted problems within upper levels of administration in school districts create a wave of funding issues and frustration. With inconsistent information being distributed to faculty and parents by higher-ups, students’ ability to learn is negatively affected.
“People seem to believe that by criticizing teachers they will ‘force out’ the bad teachers, but all that does is force out the great teachers. Before we can address anything else in education, we need to address the mindset because if we don’t fix the foundation, we can’t improve the system,” said Allison.
Teachers And Administrators Had To Create A Schedule That Works For Students To Connect Virtually While Giving Them Time To Do Their Work Independently
Younger students, such as the elementary school students Allison teaches, require more attentive virtual learning. Her regular daily schedule requires her to spend upwards of two hours on video teaching at a time, several times a day.
Different districts have found ways to incorporate time for students to work independently. In Amanda’s district, their days rotate between synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous learning happens at the same time for the instructor and the learners while asynchronous learning doesn’t necessarily happen at the same time for the instructor and the learners.
As an SLP, Katrina has had to modify her entire schedule to accommodate pulling students out of other classes to focus on their sessions with her. “Depending on the day, I’ll have 6–10 sessions scheduled. I’ll prepare my screen to have multiple tabs up for the child’s goals. If I have back-to-back sessions, I typically will have all my material for every session lined up and ready to go before my first session.”
Some districts have modified their semesters to help students. “My school has decided to utilize semester long classes (minus math, they have it all year) to try to prevent students from feeling overwhelmed with too many classes,” said Hannah. “They’ve also incorporated independent work times throughout the day for students to finish any homework or classwork.”
Virtual Learning Presents Challengings When It Comes To Student’s Attendance And Engagement
Amanda has found that attendance has taken on a new form. “Students could be active for two minutes out of a full 8 a.m.–3 p.m. day and we are still told to mark them as ‘present.’ All a student has to say is their internet is bad today and they can’t connect and they practically get a free pass to not complete work. And what can we do about it?”
“Students always have had difficulty staying focused, but when they have the ability to literally block out their camera or voice, it’s nearly impossible to keep everyone engaged,” said Carl V., a general education high school teacher.
Each age group presents its own challenges, and teachers have been finding ways to make sure their students aren’t getting burned out by the process of virtual education.
Hannah has found creative ways to get her middle school students to stay sharp. “I do whatever I can to keep my students engaged. I keep our schedule consistent, but I’m always trying new tools, giving brain breaks, I’ll even sing for them or make jokes to keep it light.”
Allison, who works with young children, has found that giving breaks and being supportive leads to the best engagement. “I try to do lots of movement and brain breaks to help. This gives them a chance to stretch. I also give them breaks throughout the day and remind them to take time looking away from the screen. I believe that students learn best when they are having fun and feel supported, even online.”
Teachers Miss Teaching In Person As Much As Parents
With the challenges educators are facing today, there are many pieces of “normalcy” that are being missed by parents, students, and teachers. In-person learning offers the types of experiences that have long-lasting impacts on students and are some of the reasons some teachers choose to become educators in the first place.
“I really miss the ‘ah-ha!’ moment. That was a big reason why I became a teacher; being able to help them learn and watch them get excited as they realize their mistakes or what they need to do differently. Seeing them make a connection to the content makes me feel proud,” said Hannah.
“I miss my students, I miss hugging them, I miss seeing them smile when they figured something out, I miss seeing them think and seeing their process in art. I miss providing them with materials that they don’t have access to at home. I miss seeing other teachers and asking them for advice if I would walk down the hall and see someone,” said Amanda.
“I miss being able to get invested in the student’s content. I used to dress up and put on costumes, be goofy and make the kids laugh,” said Carl. “Now it feels like we’re all in a board meeting. There’s no buy-in from the kids even with the same energy. In a traditional setting, you could get the kids involved because you were the entertainment.”
Despite the challenges, teachers are finding ways to provide the best educational experience they can. The dedication and love for their students is unwavering and their willingness to adapt shows just how much they truly care.