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Ideas and Solutions

COVID-19: Teacher Perspectives on How Home Learning Successes and Challenges Underscore Pronounced Inequities

Corps members and alumni teachers serving low-income communities across Indianapolis share perspectives that highlight exacerbated inequities when it comes to student reach, engagement, and learning.

June 23, 2020

Cece Zhou

Managing Director, Regional Communications and Public Affairs, Teach For America

Cece Zhou

Managing Director, Regional Communications and Public Affairs, Teach For America

As states and local school systems analyze the impact of the COVID-19 public health crisis on students and plan for school reopenings in the fall, teachers voice their perspectives from experiences working directly with students over the last several months.

The sudden transition to home learning has brought to light many of the inequities in our school systems; schools that serve low-income communities and communities of color were charged to find creative solutions to meet student needs across technology and internet access, meals, financial support, and trauma-informed practices, in order to maintain student engagement and retain high learning outcomes. Thousands of teachers and school leaders stepped up and exhibited courageous, collaborative, and resilient leadership during this time. In addition to their innovative approaches to address these needs, numerous organizations and corporations have also been instrumental in offering their support across funding, e-learning tools, and homework hotlines.

Yet, the NWEA “suggests that when students head back to school next fall, overall they are likely to retain about 70 percent of this year’s gains in reading, compared with a typical school year, and less than 50 percent in math. Losses are likely to be more pronounced in the early grades, when students normally acquire many basic skills, and among those already facing steep inequities.”

We interviewed corps members and alumni teachers about their experiences working with students during the spring, and below are various, though not comprehensive, excerpts from their responses. Overall key trends we heard included: students having different levels of access, missing community, and feeling nervousness about re-entry in the fall. It's important to note that both the challenges and early identified successes reveal disparities from school to school; our teachers acknowledge the magnitude of sustainable solutions that still need to be sought out when school reopens in the fall to address persisting inequities.

Stack of books

E-learning, Technology, and Internet Access

Strengths: Student participation, device distribution, and additional supplies to support with home learning

"The majority of our live Zoom classes are rooted in purposeful discussions, where students get to share their opinions and lesson responses to the group - it's been exciting to see our students become natural Zoomers." -Ashley Sciacca, Indy '10

"We distributed Chromebooks to students who didn’t have devices at home." -Emily Emrick, Indy '19

"It started with distribution of 'grab bags' back in March which included work packets and all school supplies they would need as well as food for families as we figured out a more consistent schedule. At that time we had families sign up for the free 60 day internet if they needed it and grab available Chromebooks if they needed a computer/tablet. We ran out of those rather quickly but have since got more as well as passed out the iPads we had." -Taelor Garrett, Indy '19

Challenges: Technical difficulties and access to high-speed internet

"Most students have trouble navigating technical difficulties (wifi, computers, etc.) which makes me believe e-learning is very inequitable." -Megan Kostolansky, Indy '19

"My school distributed Chromebooks to our students. However, the real challenge was their households not having access to WiFi." -Alyssa McIntyre, Indy '18

Student Engagement

Strengths: Regular contact, accountability, and ability to alternative-plan effectively

"I have been able to ‘binge teach.' Within the first couple weeks of remote learning, I created and scheduled my lesson plans, tracking systems, student and parent communications to be sent out to the respective audiences weeks in advance. This freed up a lot of time that I have been able to use to engage with students and parents, and address other school-related tasks and projects." -Keith Thomas, Jr., Indy '11

"Teachers at our school are making daily contact with subgroups of students and their families. These touchpoints keep students connected to us as staff and to each other, but also help us hold students accountable to completing their daily work." -Ronak Shah, Indy '12

Challenges: Reaching all students, external environment factors, inconsistencies with contact

"It has been difficult to reach some families on a consistent basis." -Ashley Sciacca, Indy '10

"There are still students who fail to log on and complete any type of e-learning work or classes. The inconsistencies of e-learning [show] how it’s only really beneficial to students have access… even with all of our efforts there are still many situations in which families aren’t able to access those resources or they need help beyond what we can offer." -Juan Cahue, Indy '17

"Even with phone calls daily to parents, there are still so many outside factors that hinder our students from turning in work on time and logging in frequently to google classroom…Teachers and schools spend a lot of time creating the best learning environment for our kids. Without having control over their learning environment has meant that our students are not as engaged or consistent when it comes to their learning." -Alyssa McIntyre, Indy '18

Student Learning and Wellness

Strengths: Retaining high expectations and opportunities to check in on student wellness

"When expectations are set for students that require them to take ownership for their own progress and learning, they are beyond capable of it and are actually learning a lot of incredible valuable skills around time management, creative problem solving, and technological literacy that we rarely have time to teach in school." -Ronak Shah, Indy '12

"Student wellness and health is crucial and a necessity for students to learn, so I make it a priority to always check in with students and provide them a sense of ease and reassurance through this unprecedented time." -Marialicia Chavez, Indy '17

Challenges: economic and financial impact on students supporting families, teaching rigorous skills

"Many of my students also have jobs. These jobs have either A) been completely shut down due to the closures or B) been ramped up, with increased hours and stress added to students who are already stressed and with limited time or access to resources. I’ve even had multiple students forced to work doubles or 6 days a week by their employers, which makes it virtually impossible for them to do their schoolwork. My school is trying to help and be as supportive as possible, but they had limited resources before all of this began." -Anonymous

"The most challenging aspect has been in being able to teach rigorous skills sufficiently well at a distance. While there are many skills students can do independently, and many that can be accomplished with some coaching and modeling, more complex stills such as extended writing, scientific method, project-based mathematics, and other similar tasks can really only be accomplished will in a collaborative classroom setting or with more hours of video instruction than there are teachers available to provide it." -Ronak Shah, Indy '12

Teachers, have an additional perspective you'd like to share? Let us know.

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