Heading back to school is always an exciting time for teachers, students and, of course, parents. School supplies and new clothes are purchased, teachers spend time setting up their classrooms and planning lessons for the new year, and everyone looks forward to seeing friends and colleagues.
This year is different. As our country’s nearly 4 million teachers prepare for the new school year, they are grappling with concerns that range from how to provide a safe environment to ensuring that all students have access to an equitable education. Everyone wants to go back to school, but we are also facing the turmoil associated with the COVID-19 global pandemic and constantly evolving district plans for how and when students will return.
There is, however, good news. Whether in the classroom, remote or in a hybrid model, we are going back to school this fall! While there may be uncertainty, teachers learned a lot about what works during this spring’s unexpected switch to remote learning. Admittedly, they have a lot of questions on their mind, but they also have best practices they can use to navigate the learning landscape for 2020-2021.
At MDR’s WeAreTeachers community, one of the largest and fastest growing online media brand for teachers, we are focused on providing teachers with tools and resources to help answer their questions. In addition, the hundreds of thousands of teachers who read and follow WeAreTeachers are sharing their questions and concerns with us. Here are the top five worries they are grappling with as they attempt to plan for the 2020-2021 school year.
#1 Safety: Without question, teachers’ biggest concern with heading back to school is for their own safety and the safety of their students. If school buildings open, teachers worry about how they will safely configure their classrooms. What will they need to provide in terms of PPE for themselves and their students? What will happen if one of their students or colleagues contracts the virus? What if they test positive for COVID-19? Their questions about safety are seemingly endless.
#2 Equitable Access: Equitable access to learning for all students is also top of mind for teachers. Not just access to devices and connectivity for remote learning, but also ensuring that students who are impacted by the pandemic because of socio-economic circumstances, the community that they live in and other factors, are learning and thriving no matter how instruction is delivered.
#3 Equity and Virtual Learning: Teachers, many of whom this spring found out on a Friday that they would be teaching virtually on Monday, are grappling with questions such as what is the right balance of screen time for students? Should learning be delivered asynchronously or synchronously? How do they ensure student and teacher privacy when the devices they are using for learning provide a portal directly into teacher and student homes? How can they successfully serve students with special needs and English language learners with virtual learning? Some children with disabilities cannot use online learning programs or need the interaction that accompanies face-to-face instruction to learn.
#4 School Budgets: In spite of federal programs, such as the CARES Act, many school district budgets have been negatively impacted by the pandemic and teachers are worried about whether or not their district will have the funds to provide safe and equitable learning opportunities. They recognize that the playing field isn’t necessarily level since wealthier districts are in a better position to purchase the PPE, devices and other supplies needed. Also, they are reluctant to spend money for their classrooms for the new school year because of all the uncertainties in the current climate.
#5 Conversations About Race: If a global pandemic isn’t enough to deal with for back to school, we are also in the midst of a much-needed national discussion on racial inequality. Teachers want to know how to support their Black students, how to address racial micro-aggressions that might be occurring in their classrooms and schools and how to talk to white students about race in an open and honest way. In addition, they are aware that there are racial inequalities in curriculum and assessments and are looking for strategies to address those moving forward.
Teachers have always been asked to go above and beyond when it comes to educating our country’s students in a safe, equitable environment and they have always risen to the call. What we are asking them to do now takes the challenge to the next level, and schools and districts will turn to their suppliers to assist. At MDR, we will continue to develop resources and tools to help you support educators and understand the plans for back to school as they continue to evolve.
To learn more about what teachers are thinking, watch our webinar, Ensuring Educational Equity for the 2020-2021 School Year and Beyond.