Teacher Preparation for Online Learning: Now Is the Time

Mary RiceToday’s blogger is Mary Frances Rice (University of New Mexico), who co-authored the article “Orienting Toward Teacher Education for Online Environments for All Students,” which appears in The Educational Forum. KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share access to the article free through June 30, 2020 at Taylor and Francis Online.

In March 2020, 1.3 billion learners at all levels were displaced from their educational buildings due to COVID-19 (UNESCO, 2020).

In the U.S., most school buildings closed for the rest of the shool year (Education Week, 2020). For many, closures of this magnitude were previously unthinkable.

Even as buildings closed, many schools and institutions of higher education adopted some form of remote emergency learning.

Aside from the psychological panic induced by COVID-19 that made transition to new ways of learning difficult, many students did not have the devices and reliable internet access necessary for online learning. In fact, many teachers did not. Moreover, teachers had not been prepared to teach online. Why not? Well, for many reasons (see Rice & Deschaine, 2020). For some teacher education programs, it was because they thought online teaching was not real teaching. For some programs, it was because they lacked resources—faculty with know-how and models to emulate. For others, it was because they (and their state licensing boards) were tightly tethered to the notion that (time in seat = learning) and online instruction disrupts that equation.

Regardless of the reason, teachers in many schools distributed devices as best they could and started sending work online to families.

Did they bring their strongest pedagogical practices to the emergency online work? Some probably did.

Success stories abound from teachers at schools who already had consistent access to infrastructure and who were already using digital resources. I have a research site right now where students are receiving private music lessons with instruments provided on a rent-to-own basis by the school as part of their home-based learning. In this school, teachers are also sending students to break-out rooms for conversations, reading bedtime stories to students, and making use of learning management systems for young children. In these nice, safe neighborhoods, teachers can parade in their cars and wave to students to lessen the distance while keeping everyone safe. Moreover, in these neighborhoods, parents can stay home with children, find places in their spacious homes to make fun spaces for learning, and monitor children’s formal learning for a few hours a day.

But that is not what it is like for most families.

In many schools, the worst pedagogies and the most deficit-laden attitudes followed them to remote learning.

In another school site where I am conducting research, students were assigned to watch a 45-minute slide presentation with narration about the Falkland Wars. Students were supposed to take notes and write an essay. This  expectation—to learn using one of the driest content delivery systems ever invented—is for 12-year-olds! In another district, parents of students with disabilities were barred from entering their children’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) virtual meetings because they did not have district email addresses. When parents were not logging on, school officials chalked it up to parental ineptitude instead their own.

And then, there are the teachers who are not able to teach at all.

The devastation of the virus in some communities has been so intense that teaching and learning are the last priorities—with good reason.

For example, the Navajo Nation on the Arizona/New Mexico border is fighting the virus while most community members lack running water (McGraw, 2020). Surely, if we have to choose between the internet and running water, the water should win, along with food and medical supplies. But in most communities, if they had decent internet bandwidth and families had access to devices and teachers were prepared to teach online and collaborate with families remotely, all students could do home learning with some success.

Although there were good reasons to prepare teachers to teach online before the pandemic, it is understandable that many educators and many communities were caught underprepared.

However, moving forward from COVID-19, it seems prudent for institutions of higher education who prepare teachers to make preparation to teach online and in blended or hybrid spaces their highest priority.

Yes, teaching online requires different types of skills (Pullham & Graham, 2018).

Yes, teaching online requires teachers to think about time and achievement differently (Yan & Pan, 2011).

Yes, teaching online increases the transactional distance between students and teachers which must be lessened through strategic actions from teachers (Moore, 1993).

But, teaching online can be done well.

Teaching online can be a positive relational experience for students (Rice & Carter, 2015). Teaching online can also support the development of critical digital literacies and other advanced skills (Blau, et. al., 2020). But stop-gap emergency will not ever be anything other than that. And if we continue to rely on it in times of trouble, we run the risk of exacerbating educational inequalities that are already beyond tragic and unacceptable.

Communities need internet.

Students need devices.

Teachers need preparation.

Parents need support. Let’s lay the blame for uneven remote learning where it belongs—lack of planning, lack of interest, and structural inequality.

Then, let’s fix it.


References

  • Blau, I., Shamir-Inbal, T., & Avdiel, O. (2020). How does the pedagogical design of a technology-enhanced collaborative academic course promote digital literacies, self-regulation, and perceived learning of students?. The Internet and Higher Education, 45, 100722.
  • Education Week. (2020). Map: Coronavirus and school closures. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/map-coronavirus-and-school-closures.html
  • McGraw, G. (2020). How do you fight the coronavirus without running water? New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/02/opinion/coronavirus-water.html
  • Moore, M.G. (1993). Theory of transactional distance. In D. Keegan (Ed.), Theoretical principles of distance education. (pp. 22-38). Routledge.
  • Pulham, E., & Graham, C.R. (2018). Comparing K-12 online and blended teaching competencies: a literature review. Distance Education, 39(3), 411–432.
  • Rice, M. & Carter, Jr., R. A. (2015). With new eyes: Online teachers’ sacred stories of students with disabilities. In M. Rice (Ed.) Exploring pedagogies for diverse learners online (pp.205-226). Emerald Group Publishing.
  • Rice, M. F., & Deschaine, M. E. (2020). Orienting toward teacher education for online environments for all students. The Educational Forum 84(2),114-125.
  • UNESCO. (2020). COVID-19 educational disruption and response. Retrieved from https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse
  • Yan, H., & Pan, S. (2011). Rethinking time management of online instruction: Flexible or strict?. Open Education Research, 3. Retrieved from http://en.cnki.com.cn/Article_en/CJFDTotal-JFJJ201103018.htm

COVID-19: A First Year Teacher Perspective

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Kathryn Getty at #KDPconvo19

Kathyrn Getty is a first year educator in New Jersey and a recent graduate of Kean University. She joined the Delta Rho Chapter of KDP in April 2018.

The 2019-2020 school year is my first year of professional teaching.

Going into my first year of teaching, fresh out of college, I was a mix of emotions.

I knew it was going to be difficult and that it was going to be a learning experience.

However, I never expected my first year of teaching to include a pandemic, resulting in remote learning.

Being a first grade teacher in an urban community, I have students who cannot readily access a tablet or computer and those who do not have internet.

The practicality of using a platform such as Google Classroom just wasn’t feasible for our demographic of students.

So, we spent hours upon hours printing packets that contained two weeks’ worth of instruction for ELA, math, science, and social studies.

The lack of printers in the building proved to be a huge issue.

In order for other grade levels to print out their materials, I volunteered to head to Office Depot and print the remainder of the packets that we were unable to complete at the school. Thank goodness, I had the KDP discount. Because of that, I saved $364.83!

The day before remote instruction began, parents had the entire day to come in and pick up their child’s materials.

Their materials consisted of two packets from the lead teacher, each consisting of one week’s work. In addition to that, work was also sent home for specials and my five gifted and talented students, and my seven ELLs were provided supplemental materials from the ELL teacher. Once the students had everything they needed, remote instruction was ready to begin on March 18th.

My main source of communication with the parents is Class Dojo, an application that parents can download on their smartphone or use on the computer. On Class Dojo I am able to post reminders, direct-message parents, and award points to students as an incentive. For weeks one and two, I recorded the students’ attendance if they answered a question I asked about their work for that day on their Class Dojo portfolio. In addition to Class Dojo, I also created an account with Splash Learn for students to get supplemental math practice, and I have been assigning students reading assignments through Raz-Kids.

One word that would describe my remote-learning experience is flexibility.

Many parents are essential workers and are unable to work with their children or contact me during the day. As a grade-level team, we decided to have the attendance question due by 9:00PM in order to accommodate those parents.

I have noticed that empathizing with the parents and remaining in constant communication helps put them at ease and allows the remote learning process to run more smoothly.

Most recently, our administration has told us to begin running Zoom sessions so that we can interact with our students and teach/answer questions in real time.

Being able to interact with my students has made me feel like a teacher again.

This situation is not ideal; however, I have learned more about adaptability and patience than I ever thought I would.

To know that others are dealing with the same scenario has shown me just how supportive and connected the teaching community is.

convowjoe

Members of the Delta Rho Chapter with Joe “Mr. D” Dombrowski at #KDPconvo19

The Delta Rho chapter of KDP has begun a weekly “teachers lounge,” where officers and members log into Zoom to talk about our successes, struggles, ask for advice, and socialize “face to face”.

My favorite part about KDP has always been the connections and closeness of our chapter. A pandemic has not stopped us from socializing appropriately or growing as professionals. Even though we do not know when this pandemic will end, I am put at ease knowing that I have the support of my co-workers and Delta Rho chapter.

When we return to the classroom, I am confident that this whole experience will have made me a better teacher.

COVID-19: A Substitute Teacher’s Perspective

LizTaylorLiz Taylor, a 2019 Daytona State College graduate, has weathered a significant numbers of ups-and-downs in her short life. She recently wrote about how her chapter supported her recovery after a life altering accident. (link to blog). She’s currently serving as a substitute teacher for Daytona-area schools.

Phew! It was Thursday, March 12th, the day before Spring Break.

I spent the day at Bunnell Elementary in Flagler County, Florida.

I had already gone tumbling down half a flight of stairs while walking my students to lunch, so I was looking forward to what I thought would only be a week off school.

All the students in the class I was teaching that day were freaking out about the Covid 19 pandemic that’s been spreading around the world. I reassured them the best I knew how to.

Little did they know, I was scared, too.

I knew that we all deserved a week to relax away from school. Little did I know we’d be off much longer than that.

I had just arrived home from work that afternoon when the news broke. The Florida Department of Education was extending Spring Break for Central Florida students by one week to slow the spread of the virus in Florida. “Hmm… okay. I’ll manage,” I said to myself as I walked over to my refrigerator to check my work week schedule. You see, I had just graduated from Daytona State College’s School of Education that past spring with my Bachelors in Elementary Education. Unfortunately, there weren’t any full-time positions available. I was substitute teaching for the time being.

Then, as time went on, the virus continued to spread. “Social distance,” we were told. Then, the DOE told everyone that two weeks would be turned into four and then eight, and that the full-time teachers would start to plan for computer-based “distance learning.” “Oh, no!” I said, as the panic started to set in. A lump started to form in my throat. “I guess online learning doesn’t leave districts with the need for substitute teachers,” since Florida teachers would be working from home. I would be left jobless.

I took the easiest first step I could think of and I started looking for jobs teaching virtual school through Florida Virtual School. They weren’t hiring elementary teachers, either. I jumped on my computer and started reaching out to people at my district, letting them know that I was free, certified, endorsed, and willing and able to work anywhere they needed me. Then, I emailed the principals and assistant principals of the county’s five elementary schools and relayed the same message. Everyone reached back out to me, thanking me for my willingness to help, and told me that they’d reach out to me if they needed me. I’ve done all that I can for the time being. Now, my responsibility is to keep myself busy while keeping myself and my family safe.

I reached out to a couple of working moms that I know and let them know that I was free and available to help their kids with any online learning that they needed help with. It’s important to stick together during these times of uncertainty. I might not know what’s next as far as my career goes, but what I do know for sure is that we will eventually be back in classrooms in front of students at some point. Just because I don’t have any work doesn’t mean I want to be away from kids. If I can help a couple of local families during this time of uncertainty, I’d be glad to.
I wasn’t planning to be starting my career as a teacher during a global pandemic, much less as a substitute teacher without job security.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about viruses, it’s that they don’t care what your plans are for the year. They do not take into consideration jobs, after-school activities, substitute teachers and others being left without jobs, or the thousands of students around the nation who would be left without a classroom to go to for an undetermined amount of time.

Learning will still happen. Together, we can get through this.

As for me, for now I will continue supporting my fellow teachers while daydreaming about a future classroom and class of my own next school year.

COVID-19: A Professor’s Perspective

Cosco-TaraTara Cosco, Ed.D. is an Associate Professor of Education at Milligan College. She has been a KDP member for more than 20 years and serves as the Counselor of the Alpha Iota Iota Chapter.

 

 

Initially, when we heard about the Coronavirus, the college was on spring break, so to be honest I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. I was enjoying my time off.

Then, the college announced we had an extra week of spring break.

Naturally, I reacted joyfully. I took long walks in the park with my co-worker and enjoyed the extra time off from work.

Then, the college announced we needed to transition to online teaching for the rest of the semester.

What? I better look into what this is truly all about. The college is one of the last places to close. When public schools close, we tend to stay open if at all possible, so this must be serious, I thought.

I wasn’t too worried about the transition to teaching online. One of my classes was already online, and most of my materials are housed online anyway.

The first week of online teaching was okay. I added assignments to make up for the in-class work I would have typically given them. I wasn’t feeling the stress I assumed some of my other colleagues were, because I love technology and use it often anyway.

Then, we had an area meeting, and the realities of what others were facing became apparent.

My chair talked about the students’ fears about graduation and how they would finish the hours needed in the schools as a student teacher and intern. We were told many of the mentor teachers were now having to homeschool their own children and at the same time teach their students. Spouses were out of work and tensions were high. My heart started to ache for the students who dreamed of their senior year with friends and their graduation celebration. The moment they had all worked so hard for was now something that we feared would not happen.

The second week of class in quarantine, I decided to hold a Zoom meeting and allow students to gather together virtually if they could. I allowed those who were unable to attend the virtual class to watch the replay later.

I was thrilled to see my students’ faces again! I had missed them terribly!

This pandemic had taught me that there was a lot in this world I took for granted. I took for granted the everyday conversations, interactions with colleagues, students, friends, and family. We held class as usual, only through a screen instead of in person. It worked well! I was pleased with the technology, the ability to share my screen, and interact as if we were in an actual classroom.

It is now early April, and we are starting a month-long lockdown.

I am missing my colleagues, students, friends, and loved ones terribly!

I miss eating out, social gatherings, a friendly hug. The news tells of projected deaths and times are scary.

I hope everyone stays safe and we return to normal soon with an attitude of gratitude.

For e-learning resources and a community of peers, visit KDP’s website at http://www.kdp.org.