- Schools around the country have been closed in response to the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
- New York, the state hardest-hit by the coronavirus spread, abruptly closed schools on March 18 in what was initially for two weeks. On April 11, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that schools in the city would be shut for the remainder of the school year.
- Several New York City public school teachers spoke to Insider and said that students and teachers were not prepared for remote learning and they were not given the resources they needed in order to transition from a classroom setting to online.
- “It took us almost 3 weeks to FINALLY get these kids logged on … and now that they hear that there is no more school, we will lose them,” one teacher told Insider after de Blasio’s announcement.
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As the novel coronavirus pandemic has shuttered schools across America, teachers, parents, and students have had to quickly adjust to their new reality.
As of April 10, every US state has mandated some form of school closure, with some states extending their closures until at least the end of the school year.
New York, the state hardest-hit by the coronavirus spread, abruptly closed schools on March 18, initially only for a two-week period. As of April 12, the state has reported over 189,000 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, and 9,385 deaths. Nearly 6,000 of those deaths occurred in New York City.
“The single most effective way to slow the spread of this virus is to reduce close contacts, and that includes in our schools,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on March 16 when he issued an executive order closing schools in the state.
“Every district will be required to submit a plan to ensure children of healthcare workers and first responders have access to child care so these closures do not strain our hospitals and that children who depend on school meal programs continue getting the support they need,” he added.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on April 11 that schools in the city would be shut for the remainder of the school year.
Several New York City public school teachers told Insider last month that students and teachers were not prepared for remote learning and they were not given the resources they needed in order to transition from a classroom setting to online. And in response to news that schools remain closed for the duration of the school year, these teachers say they feel “anxious,” angry, and “extremely checked out” by it all.
‘We didn’t receive much guidance at all’
Several New York City public school teachers spoke to Insider last month to discuss their preparedness for the school shutdowns.
According to the New York City Department of Education, there are over 1.1 million students in the NYC school system, making it the largest school district in the United States. Among those students, 85% are from a minority ethnic or racial background, and around 73% are economically disadvantaged.
There are 75,000 teachers across 1,866 schools within the NYC DOE. The United Federation of Teachers, the labor union that represents most teachers in New York City public schools, told teachers in an email that it had urged Mayor de Blasio to close schools from March 13.
“We understand the immense disruption a school closure will create for our families,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a March 13 email to teachers, seen by Insider. “But right now more than a million students and staff crisscross the city every day on their way to schools, putting themselves and others at risk of exposure and increasing the likelihood of bringing exposure into their homes and communities.”
Mulgrew emailed teachers again on March 16, the day that Cuomo announced statewide school closures, and explained the process of transitioning lessons to online learning. Faculty only had three days to come into their schools to prepare plans for remote learning.
“We have much work to do in very little time,” the email, seen by Insider, said.
Rebecca, an English teacher who asked that we not use her last name, said her school did not provide her with much guidance on how she was supposed to transition to digital learning.
“At my school, we didn’t receive much guidance at all,” she told Insider. “We were supposed to come in for three days for ‘training,’ which turned out to be ‘we go to our separate classrooms and work independently.'”
“We received some general guidance, such as making sure assignments are not too difficult or discouraging for students, and ensuring all students get signed up for Google Classroom,” she added.
Jessica, an art teacher at a New York City charter school, reported similar frustrations with how little teachers were prepared for the transition. Jessica, not her real name, asked that her identity be protected for fear of retribution at work.
“We got a few links to tutorial videos but that was it,” she told Insider.
She said that students were given mandatory work for other subjects, like math and English, but art teachers were told to provide “optional lessons” that kids can follow.
“I do not have the resources necessary and calling parents is not enough to promote learning,” she said.
Barbara, an English teacher, said teachers were given a “quick tutorial” on how to use online tools, like Google Classroom, in order to hand out and grade assignments, but were otherwise “told to make it work.” Barbara, not her real name, asked that her identity be protected.
“The Department of Education sent a few emails with websites to help us plan curriculum,” she said. “Students were not prepared.”
Adam, a math teacher, said before the shutdown, teachers at his school sat down and watched “a one-hour tutorial” as part of their preparation. He asked that we only use his first name.
‘Parents are basically homeschooling kids’
Some teachers have said the lack of clarity and direct instruction from the state has left parents feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.
“Parents are basically homeschooling kids and a few have told me they’re overwhelmed with teaching the kids and working from home at the same time,” said Jessica.
Rebecca said students were not given time to prepare for the transition, putting the responsibility on teachers and administrators to work through any issues as they come up.
“This was obviously not something students expected,” she said. “They came to school on Friday and found out over the weekend they would not be returning. Preparation for the students has mostly come in the form of teachers and administration communicating with students and parents about the steps necessary to get set up on Google Classroom.”
Rebecca said using digital tools has become a source of tension.
“Some parents have gotten upset with us teachers when we can’t help them with tech support,” said Rebecca. “Many seem irate when we notify them that students are not submitting assignments, which is understandable because the situation is so stressful and tense for everybody. Other parents have fully embraced the change.”
“It’s certainly forcing students to step up and take responsibility for their learning, but the problems arise when they still don’t have access to the internet, or they’re sharing one laptop with multiple siblings,” she added.
The New York City Department of Education did not respond to Insider for comment.
‘We’re just being used as babysitters’
Insider spoke to these teachers again on April 12, following news that de Blasio had extended school shutdowns until June.
Rebecca told Insider that in the weeks since transitioning to online learning, teachers and students had “checked out” of classes.
“Honestly I’m just feeling extremely checked out and I think most teachers and students are as well,” she told Insider.
She added that the decision by city officials to cancel spring break this year has added more anger over the amount of responsibility and the lack of direction given to teachers.
“Taking away our spring break was a really low blow and makes everyone feel like we’re just being used as babysitters,” she said.
Jessica said her charter school hasn’t yet discussed the extended closures and said there have been discussions about cutting jobs.
“My school hasn’t told us anything yet so I’m pretty anxious about it all,” she said.
“Since hearing the news, I am feeling all sorts of mixed emotions,” Barbara told Insider.
She said that she and her fellow teachers have finally started to master the digital tools they have been told to use for their online lessons, but said that the amount of work that teachers have to do in order to compensate is “ridiculous and absurd.”
“It’s constant emails, grading, paperwork, more grading and constant communication with parents,” she said. “As an English teacher, I am constantly reading and editing, and the kids don’t even look at my feedback. I miss the physical interaction of reading and discussing.”
“It took us almost three weeks to FINALLY get these kids logged on … and now that they hear that there is no more school, we will lose them. Why would a kid feel that he or she has to work if we aren’t going back?”