Thinking About the Road Ahead

Sounding Off April 20 / April 30, 2020

– Peter Santoro –

We have been living with our “stay at home orders” and “social distancing” for well over a month now. Society is looking toward a “new normal.” What could that look like for education? Will traditional education pick up exactly where we left off when we were told to leave our classrooms and teach from our new “virtual classrooms”? Is it even possible to achieve social distancing if we return to our previous environments? Are there alternatives to our traditional classes that could be implemented until this crisis is over?  

This COVID-19 pandemic will forever change the way our society functions, from the way we shop, to the way we worship, to the way we view large gatherings such as sporting events, conferences and even street fairs. As educators, it has presented many of us with challenges that initially seemed insurmountable. Teachers are being forced to record their lessons, generate work for students that can be completed at home, and hold virtual classes. This has caused teachers to take crash courses on how to use all the technology necessary to accomplish these tasks. Accompanied by a certain amount of fear and trepidation, many of us have had to become students again.

The first question I want to address is the ability of public schools, high schools, in particular, to offer some level of online learning. There are several factors at play here, including:

    • In some areas of the country, particularly those areas of lower economic means, many students need to work to help support their families. Often, these young adults are forced to make difficult choices between their education and contributing to their families’ ability to put food on the table. If schools were able to offer these students an online learning option, they would not have to make those difficult life choices. 
    • Some schools are so crowded that they have to divide their day into split sessions because they are unable to contain the entire student body concurrently within their walls. In situations such as this, it may make sense to offer an online learning option to a certain portion of their student population (e.g., to those students who have demonstrated the self-discipline and responsibility needed for success with online learning). I remember my first years of teaching when I taught in an NYC public high school; we had a 12-period day of instruction. Period 1 began at 7:00 a.m., and Period 12 ended after 5:00 p.m. Students and teachers were assigned either Periods 1 through 8 or Periods 5 through 12. Most students were encouraged to take only the minimum required five classes each day. This is how the school kept the student population manageable enough so that the school was not so grossly overcrowded. This might be another opportunity for offering some students the option of moving towards online learning.  
    • An increasing number of students are being diagnosed with medical, emotional and mental health disorders. In many instances, this impedes these students from receiving a proper education. They have a high rate of absenteeism from school, among other unique challenges. This may be caused by physical ailments, or by emotional or psychological disturbances. I have had several students in the past two years who were in this category. They were all intent upon returning to school to be with their friends. Instead of offering students home instruction or tutoring by tutoring agencies, these students might benefit greatly from online instruction provided by classroom teachers in their current school. For some students who lack the motivation or ability to work independently, this would not be a viable option to help keep them accountable at home.   

For any of these options to become viable educational alternatives for students, administrators need to recognize the viability of providing education in this new format, which would have been unimaginable two months ago. Also, teachers need the training to provide high-quality online instruction. There are special education considerations involved here as well. There are special education teachers in my school providing resource room and integrated support services via Google Meet so that it can be done, but it is intensive and time-consuming. With the acknowledgment that there also needs to be in-person interaction from time to time, this can be a viable option if implemented with proper training and great care on the part of students, parents, teachers and administrators. 

One last consideration about online instruction is the technology piece. Schools need to have proper technology available to teachers to provide this type of instruction. A much bigger issue is for the students to have the required technology at home for them to participate in an online instructional program fully. Currently, NYC public schools are providing a device (iPad or Chromebook) with an internet hotspot for students and families who do not have this required technology, but we shall see if this approach is sustainable.    

During breaks in this craziness that many of us are experiencing, this pandemic has also given some of us time to reflect and rethink our approach to educating students. This time may be the perfect opportunity for school administrators to rethink how schools can best provide high quality, equitable instruction to all of our students, and for understanding the varied needs and circumstances of our students and their families.

Peter Santoro
Peter Santoro
I have been teaching High School Mathematics for 12 years. This is the fifth year I am “Flipping” and my third year with Flipped Mastery. In addition to two sections of Introductory Calculus, I also teach one section of Geometry and two sections of Mathematics Research Honors. In addition, I am the coach of the Garden City High School Math Team (Mathletes). I am a Founding Member of the FLGI International Faculty as well as an FLGI Master Teacher and a member of the FLGI Insanely Smart Panel on the innovative uses of class time.

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