I am a teacher in the Mountain View-Los Altos School District and recently I participated in a community survey from our district. At the end of the survey, I was allowed to review the comments others had left. Frankly, I found those comments shocking. Many parents were demanding that students return to the physical classroom this fall. They claimed that distance learning was a complete failure, that their students learned nothing and that their students refused to engage with online learning. They insisted that students were going to suffer from lifelong learning loss because of distance learning.
What I understood from these comments was that teachers experienced difficulty transitioning to a completely new way of teaching in a matter of weeks, especially since there were no models to guide our work. Our lessons, in the beginning of that process, were not as skillful as our normal in-class lessons would be, and parents found this frustrating and disappointing.
Additionally, parents were confronted with just how difficult it is to engage a teenager in work they do not wish to do. This is a job that previously has been largely left to teachers in the classroom, and now falls on parents in the home. These parents felt they did not have the training or techniques needed to get their students to do their schoolwork.
Finally, parents are deeply concerned that this natural disaster and its disruptive effects will permanently impact the future success of their students, and that it is the responsibility of the schools to prevent learning loss, in spite of this unprecedented crisis.
On the other hand, I could die if I catch COVID-19 from a student who has no symptoms, but is still a carrier for the disease. My husband could die if he catches it from me. My mother-in-law could die because we are responsible for her care. All three of us are at risk. Hand sanitizer, face masks, social distancing, and disinfectant will not guarantee my safety, it will only slightly lessen the risk for the three of us.
Teachers will get better at teaching remotely. The district can provide guidance and training for parents who wish to take on some of the responsibility of their student’s education. Learning doesn’t stop at the end of a semester or a school year, and can be made up when the crisis has passed.
So, I have only one heartfelt plea to those parents calling for us to go back to business as usual: I don’t want to die so your child can be in a classroom during an epidemic. Please don’t ask me to. We can find another way, and it may not be perfect, but it will be good enough.
Sophia Caramagno is a Mountain View High School social studies teacher.