After a school year cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, it's all but certain that schools will operate differently in the fall. As school districts wrestle with the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and hammer out plans to bring everyone back safely, teachers are left wondering how to prepare for the future of teaching—a future that's fraught with uncertainty.
Decisions haven't been finalized yet, but here are some things to think about as you plan for the next school year.
Returning to the classroom.
In addition to increased sanitizing and hand washing, current CDC recommendations for reopening schools include limiting the number of students in each class, setting students' desks at least six feet apart, closing common areas such as cafeterias, mandating cloth face coverings, and ensuring that students and staff stay home when they're sick.
Not only do these recommendations require significant changes to traditional school settings, but opinions are extremely divided on how to best implement these recommendations. Many teachers might already be used to dealing with runny noses and sick kids coming to school, but others might not feel comfortable working in a classroom that might put their health at risk. On the flip side, some teachers worry that requiring students to wear masks, restricting physical interaction and playtime, and eliminating hot lunch won't make school feel very much like school at all.
Continuing online learning.
Many districts are considering staggering schedules or having students attend school on alternating days to reduce the number of kids in buildings. Therefore, even if schools reopen, teachers will most likely need to prepare to teach in the classroom and online.
In the quick transition to online learning, many teachers began using new and often unfamiliar platforms without much time to prepare. Summer breaks offer the chance to get more familiar with current online learning systems or investigate alternatives for the fall.
Many schools and teachers turned to Google Classroom to facilitate remote instruction. It's relatively intuitive, and it offers features, such as Jamboard and Bitmoji, that can make lessons more fun and interactive. It's also a great idea to check out additional Google Chrome extensions that might increase the web browser's functionality.
If you don't use Google Classroom—or don't want to—consider using Zoom, IXL, Seesaw, Study Island, or some other tool to facilitate remote learning. Many programs are currently waiving service fees, so now is a great time to check them out.
Teaching students who don't have internet access.
One of the biggest hurdles in online education—one that's been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic—is unequal internet access.
According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 14 percent of school-aged students live in homes without internet access. Many schools purchased laptops and mobile hot spots and distributed them to the students who needed them, but that's only a temporary fix. If the future of teaching is online, schools need to develop permanent solutions. For example, to reach its students, the Los Angeles Unified School District has partnered with the city's flagship PBS stations to create an at-home learning service, Variety reports; it's since been adopted by public TV stations in San Diego, Boston, and Detroit. Some schools, EdSurge reports, have addressed challenges by distributing packets of work to students' homes and calling students' families or using services such as Remind to reach students via text.
Education Week reports that a coalition of more than 70 educational groups is seeking funding from Congress to provide internet access to students in low-income families and students with disabilities. Some internet providers are waiving late fees, increasing data limits on hot spots, and offering free service to families who qualify.
Responding to the abrupt shift to online learning, working from home, and managing the stress of living through a pandemic has tested our emotions. Add to this the uncertainty of what the future of teaching looks like, and the mental burden can get overwhelming.
The American Psychological Association recommends several strategies when dealing with the unknown. These include being kind to yourself, reflecting on past successes, limiting exposure to the news, and seeking support from family, friends, or a professional.
Take the time to rest, relax, and recharge this summer. We're all living through unprecedented times. Caring for ourselves now is the best way to prepare for teaching in the fall.