A few days ago, we wrote a story called Free the Park City Teachers. We advocated that teachers could use some time off. A Park City teacher tried to provide a comment but couldn’t. So, he or she emailed their thoughts. I appreciate the time taken to write this. It educated me and is very informative.
I am a teacher at Park City High School. Before I respond to the post, I want to make clear: our priority at this point is the safety of our students. It was a weird few days in our schools in PCSD, with lots of uncertainty in a situation that was constantly – and still is – evolving. Moving forward, I know the safety of our students and community is of paramount concern to our teachers, administrators, para professionals, classified staff, and everyone else who works with students.
With all that stated, I want to offer some insight to this post because I don’t think the post grasps what is actually happening in schools and why taking a few weeks off is, in fact, a huge concern for teachers and requires a monumental amount of work. While we appreciate the sentiment of care, of taking the time off, I want to elaborate on why that is problematic in practice, in theory, and by professional standards. I cannot personally speak for the elementary teachers, although I know extra prep time and collaboration time is important for them, and without students they will still be looking for ways to improve their practice. I can, however, speak for many at the secondary level, including everyone in my own department and other departments across the school.
For all teachers, our students learning is most important, coming second only to their safety. At the secondary level (6th – 12th grades) this means we are still teaching and learning the next two weeks through Canvas in an online format. Logistically, this is a nightmare. I have three different courses I teach; some teachers have four or more. This requires I move all of my teaching and all my students learning and assessment online. I generally have my courses planned in detail one to two weeks ahead of each class day, and more broadly outlined a month or so beyond the class day. For most teachers, we cannot have a year of content planned because the lessons change depending on our kids needs, their strengths and weaknesses, and how each group of students responds to new material. That varies from quarter to quarter, even week to week. The lessons I have planned, however, cannot just be “moved online” because they are planned with student interaction, opportunities to ask questions, classroom activities in groups, and immediate feedback on student work. I have to construct entirely new lessons for each day, lessons that are often less effective than what they would’ve been in person. For example, many of my students were supposed to complete one-on-one writing conferences with me next week. Instead of meeting in person and working through their essays together, I will be video conferencing with them, which requires scanning every hand written essay into the computer (it is an AP course that requires handwritten work), sending that copy to students, and then sorting times each day for them to login to Canvas to video conference with me, a less effective method than if we could meet in person. That is the logistical problem for one class. What about chemistry courses with physical labs that must be completed? Or 3D art where kids need a wheel to throw pots? Or language teachers who need to talk with their students in Spanish, French, or Mandarin? What about P.E.? Teachers are scrambling to determine how they will move their courses online.
More importantly, we have diverse learners in PCSD. We have students who are emergent bilinguals receiving English as a Second Language services. Scaffolding for students in an online format will not serve their needs adequately, as the individual attention they need is difficult to deliver via a screen. We have students who are in special education who benefit from differentiated assignments and one-on-one support. We also have AP testing the first two weeks of May. Students have been working seven months to prepare for those exams, hoping for strong scores for college credit. Two weeks off in March is incredibly difficult, the time of the year when teachers and students are pushing through content before the review begins in April.
The point here is teachers are professionals who want their students to succeed. The reason we will be there this week and next week is because it will take hours to restructure those lessons and offer online feedback. Our students safety is critically important to us; but we also want them to be successful learners, so we are putting in the hours these next two weeks to ensure the best from a difficult situation for our students and our community.
We don’t want to take the time off; it is too important for our kids that they can continue learning and progressing at this critical point in the semester.
Obviously there are times of the year when kids and teachers and parents need breaks. We all do. And clearly it is crucial for student safety that we are not in school right now; getting through course material does not supersede students’ health. But it is important for the community to know why it matters to us to be there, and why even though we won’t have students we are still getting paid.
Beyond these concerns, I want the readers of the Park Rag to know teachers are worried about our students beyond the learning in the classroom. Many of our kids have parents who work in the restaurants and resorts. Suddenly, parents are not getting paid as the resorts close and tourists and locals stop going out to dinner. How are families going to pay rent? How will everyone’s needs be met? For parents who are lucky enough to still work, what about child care? These are massive concerns that teachers are grappling with through email and text.
As I said in the beginning: I appreciate the sentiment that teachers should just get time off, that it would be “good” for us. But I think the context of the school year, the challenges we face, and our commitment as professionals must be understood to show why we need to be working this coming week. I would be a better teacher with consistent time with my students and they would succeed more as learners with consistent feedback from me. Given the current crisis, online is the best we can do – and should do – to protect our students and provide for their education.