NEWS

Back to School?

by | Aug 2, 2020 | Bottom Left Black Box, News

​With the difficult decisions about school that families face this fall, News of Davidson turned to some veteran teachers in our community for their thoughts. Although local districts have chosen online education for the moment, these ideas are nevertheless instructive.

Nancy Gardner, retired Mooresville City Schools teacher, education consultant, Technology is a tool, the kids are more comfortable than the adults with the tool (ever watched an 18-month-old swipe an iPhone?).”

Would you send children back to school in N.C. now? Each district has a different plan and different funding resources available to ensure safety. My grandkids will continue to learn, even from home and without a “remote plan,” but I don’t want to put any children or teachers in unhealthy environments.

Some ask why not delay the start of school until facilities can be readied and policies in place: “nothing magic about September.”  Safety needs to be the first consideration. Restructuring facilities and policies takes time and money. Is it there? When/how do we know when we are “ready”?

What do you think about the value of online learning/teaching, either as a necessity or in general? Nothing can replace the teacher—and some of that relationship needs to be in person rather than via a screen. However, there is absolutely a movement forward to incorporate online learning in some form in our educational system. Technology is a tool, the kids are more comfortable than the adults with the tool (ever watched an 18-month old swipe an iPhone?). The best setup for online instruction is a combination of synchronous and asynchronous opportunities for the students. For example, using a Learning Management System like Moodle to provide resources, videos, drop boxes, etc. for students to access independently, while also providing “in-person” classes (like ZOOM) for class discussions, group work, presentations by teachers and students.

Are there optimal ages or subjects for learning/teaching online? There are challenges at all ages—but that is the case for total in-person classes, as well. A successful learning experience depends on the expertise of the person planning the courses—and, therefore, teachers need to be honored, respected, and paid for this expertise—and schools also need to be given adequate funding for resources for all students.

Are there resources for teachers that help maximize the experience for all? Yes. There are lots of available resources online and from other teachers across the nation. However, that takes time to seek, plan, practice. Are teachers being adequately paid for this? The internet has provided a rich platform for teachers (and students) to share and learn from each other, but it takes time to create these connections/opportunities. The unfair expectation is that teachers will just make it happen—and that has always been the case.

Do you have thoughts about how online learning marginalizes underprivileged students, and how might we address those issues? You can provide the tool (the Chromebook, MacBook, whatever), but internet access is another issue. And then there is the space/homelife issue, and the other basics that schools/teachers provide: food, heat or air conditioning; caring adults who support learning; nurses; and counselors. Lack of sufficient funding for districts/states and salaries for teachers and other school personnel has always created more challenges for underprivileged students and their teachers. The pandemic and emergency shift to remote learning  intensified that challenge, as well as helped others see the problem. Providing the tools helps with the equality issue, but the equity issue means we have a responsibility to make sure that individual students receive the specific instruction and resources to help them achieve the standards based on their individual needs—that is true whether we are in the classroom face to face or remote, but it is harder remotely.

Do you see permanent changes to education once the pandemic has receded? Yes—and I hope one of the shifts will include appropriate salaries for educators and a deeper understanding of how hard this job is—if done well. When I left the classroom and simply “worked,” it was so much easier!

 Rosemary Klein, retired teacher—Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, “The energy that people have put into measuring the distances between desks would be better used to work on this online model and make it really good.”

Would you send children back to school in N.C. now? No! Having kids go back is not a viable option, not only because no matter how careful they think they are, it is really not possible to be completely safe. Going back to school under these conditions bears so little resemblance to what I remember as real teaching, it seems to me not worth doing. If one is not able to sit down with a child, not able to group the children so they can talk about things, solve problems together, etc., spending much of one’s time dealing with the fears of the kids, and one’s own fears, keeping them apart, keeping the masks on, etc., how is sitting in a desk, isolated from one’s friends, qualitatively different from a Zoom call?

Not to mention how can a teacher manage in-person instruction under impossible conditions plus virtual lessons for the ones who are not there but are there two days a week, PLUS the lessons for the ones who have signed on only to do online work?

What do you think about the value of online learning/teaching, either as a necessity or in general?

This is different now than normally. Online learning is a good supplement to in-person learning—easy access to information, etc. I am not an authority on that, but I am convinced that it can be done well, and the energy that people have put into measuring the distances between desks would be better used to work on this online model and make it really good. No, it’s not in person, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be good.

Are there optimal ages or subjects for learning/teaching online High school classes, which are “stand and deliver” anyway, might work pretty well, if it’s a format where the students can ask questions. The effectiveness depends more on the personality of the students—some kids are completely relational and thrive with the interaction with the teacher, others not.

Do you have thoughts about how online learning marginalizes underprivileged students, and how might we address those issues? Energy and resources  need to go to underprivileged communities. It’s not just students who are not participating, but I heard that half of the third graders at one school never logged on. They have to figure out some solution to that. Some of it is lack of access, but some is just lack of supervision.

Bill Strong, retired teacher—Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, “In March, few K-12 teachers had any online experience and no time to learn.” 

Would you send children back to school in NC now?   Only in small groups—maybe eight in a classroom, with limited movement around the school. My niece and nephew in Lincoln County will have two days/week in school, three days out. Teachers will be expected to be there five days/week and deal with a half-class AND online instruction.

Some ask why not delay the start of school until facilities can be readied and policies in place makes sense: “nothing magic about September.” Thoughts? This virus is a moving target. Is December early enough to be “ready” for anything? CMS just changed to all online. My home state, Michigan, has 500 school districts many of them small, only a few with two or more high schools, and they’re having the same problems we are. The decisions indicate that no two school boards/administrations read the situation the same way.

What are your thoughts about the value of online learning/teaching, either as a necessity or in general?  Online teaching requires lots of changes in teaching and learning habits and skills. It’s not a quick, easy, or linear transition. In March, few K-12 teachers had any online experience and no time to learn.

Are there optimal ages or subjects for learning/teaching online? Through 9th grade or so, children need many short lessons and changes of pace to keep their attention. I can think of dozens of techniques I used that would not work online. How would a PE activity, a science lab, a woodshop project, or nearly any lesson that needed special equipment work. I often used two maps and board diagrams at the same time to explain some historical event. On a small screen? I have equal problems imagining a robust discussion. So much depends on reading body language.

Do you see permanent changes to education once the pandemic has receded? I hope that teachers will develop a new set of skills that can apply to regular instruction. And we might see some new flexibility is dealing with long-term illnesses, and some disabilities.

Meg Kimmel

A professional communicator with a long career in higher education, Meg now consults and volunteers in areas where words and images work together to tell a story. She's a proud member of Davidson's Class of 1977 and lives nearby with her husband, Don, Davidson professor emeritus of biology, with whom she shares a family grown by kinship and choice.

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