The beginning of social distancing for me and my family on March 20th meant the beginning of an entirely new way of learning. As a student, I’ve found many challenges that come with learning at home, from being unable to focus to an increase in writing assignments due to worries about students cheating on assessments. However, the change has still been relatively easy considering the amount of technology that was already integrated into daily learning from using an iPad. This situation has not been the same for my mother, Erin Burke, who is a public school teacher at Janney Elementary. I recently interviewed her on the main changes and challenges that quarantine has brought to being a teacher.
Teaching kindergarten typically involves a lot of hands on exercises and lesson plans because of the young age of the students. “It’s crazy. Our school has a computer lab and access to technology, but my class rarely used computers for daily activities. All my lessons involved handouts, blocks, and stations where my kids would get up and be moving around. It’s hard trying to mimic that through a screen” she said. Along with the other teachers at Janney, my mom has been posting assignments and activities for her students through Microsoft Teams, which has become another challenge. “We’ve never used Microsoft Teams before, but I’m not allowed to use any other platform because of security concerns. This is the only platform that DCPS recommends. I’m not super adept with technology, so I’ve had to spend a lot of extra time trying to understand the limits of this tool while trying to assign work and talk to students at the same time. At the same time, I’m constantly answering emails from parents who are just as confused as I am and are looking for recommendations for extra activities,” Burke said.
Due to the spread of coronavirus in DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser has also made adjustments to the school year schedule that affect how teachers have had to organize their lesson plans for the rest of the year. “Basically, the mayor moved our spring break up to the first week of quarantine. It wasn’t actually a break for teachers though, because the point of that first week was to give teachers time to scramble to figure out how they were going to start distance learning the following week. It feels like there was no spring break, which leaves me feeling more stressed out” she said.
Despite this complete change of pace, there have been positive outcomes to distance learning. Burke said, “This has been challenging for everyone to adjust to, but I think a lot of the administration at Janney has found ways to overcome this. Every week, every grade has meetings between every teacher to brainstorm new ways to be teaching from home. Just last week, we sent out an extra video where teachers showed off their pets for the students to watch. I miss teaching, and I know many other teachers feel the same way, but everyone has been doing their best to keep a semblance of normalcy.”