– 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:
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.