First Days

Today marks the first positive case of COVID-19 at our boundary school among a student; this is the 3rd elementary school in our region that has had positive cases. After a special board meeting this evening, the board announced that over 1000 families want to switch their mode of learning, so they moved the first decision date from mid-October to the end of this week. I’m guessing that more families want to bring their kids out of school instead of wanting to switch back in?

Our family is among the 12% of families who have chosen the low-tech/tech-free/paper package option. Although we haven’t received our paper packages yet (due to the schools being super busy and the paper package quarantine protocols of at least 72 hours of being touch-free) and although I was very wary that it’d be only paper-based learning, I’m quite happy with this hybrid blend of online and offline learning that the teachers are offering: our kids meet with a small group of students and the teacher a few times a week for a short period (instead of hours), and then the whole class maybe once a month; they also post optional supplemental learning resources online (videos, printables, activities) as well. This model feels like there’s more dedicated time for engagement and interaction without too much screen time. Currently, with paper packages delayed, the choice of activities to do throughout the day/week, is somewhat reminiscent of the spring term, but it seems more organized somehow, despite it being very disorganized behind the scenes. Maybe it’s because there is an addition of official “office hours” – the teacher has dedicated time in the day where you (the parent) or the student can call or drop-in and connect with them.

I feel for the teachers who are frantically trying to get everything up and running and figuring out the teaching model and meeting requirements like taking attendance and respecting families who want to be completely screen-free, and I’ve realized that anything can change from one day to the next. After accidentally joining some Facebook groups meant for teachers and reading the posts, it really gives me a new perspective and I have a deeper level of empathy for what they’re going through:

  1. Teachers have the same question as me – how is synchronous learning going to work with those who choose no-tech? But unlike me, they have to figure out the solution for it. On the other hand, one teacher teaching the online learning group asked what activities to keep students engaged, as she could only do story-time so many times in one day.
  2. Teachers are still being hired. One teacher was working in-person, and seemingly without consultation or notice, she was told she had to wrap up her in-person class by Friday and start teaching remotely on Tuesday because of classroom sizes (I wasn’t a fan of the phrase “collapsing classrooms” as it seems to put the blame of online learners but I can see why it’s negative now). Some teachers were hired and given a classroom just two days before they were supposed to start teaching. Many distance learning kindergarten teachers are without designated ECEs right now, and they don’t know who they will get. It’s no wonder many families didn’t get an introductory call or email until late last week.
  3. It seems that although the French immersion (FI) students in the online-learning cohort may have more than one teacher, FI students like ours in the paper-based learning program have only ONE teacher. My child’s teacher is responsible for all the subjects covered in both French (immersion) and English! That feels like double the work than in a normal classroom, and they still might have 30 kids. It appears that for non-FI distance learning learners, core french is taken out of this year’s curriculum, but it’s still being taught in-person, so I’m not sure what the learning gap will be like next year!
  4. Many teachers that are being hired are hired as a long-term occasional worker and/or come from other school boards (outside of the region or from a private school). Some have never taught full-time, nor the grade, or subjects they were assigned (e.g. a music teacher is now expected to teach ALL subjects in both English and French). I can see why some private schools might be impacted as well, as parents are pulling students from the ones that aren’t offering remote learning and either homeschooling them themselves or enrolling them in the public system. Navigating technology like calling parents from a private or blocked number (via Google Meets) was something new to them (and me).
  5. Teachers have to come up with a loose schedule and have to decide upon which online teaching platform (e.g. D2L Brightspace or Google Classroom) and tools to use and learn it quickly. There is no suggested or recommended template so they’re just relying on sharing ideas with each other. I learned that my oldest child’s teacher’s schedule seemed solid in the teaching circle as it was used as an example among other teachers. They also have to come up with creative solutions unique to this group of learning on how to take attendance twice a day through the low-tech method!
  6. Low-tech teachers still put a lot of effort (and likely time) in creating lessons on the online learning platform to supplement their students’ learning despite that us being in the paper-based learning model (so it’s in addition to all the paperwork they have to do). Personally, I’m not a fan of the bitmoji classrooms because I can never tell what I’m clicking on – is it a video? another page? but the teachers really seem to like it (…maybe it will wear off like Comics Sans?) and I do appreciate the actual content.
  7. Distance learning teachers can also have 30 kids in their classes. I can’t begin to imagine how to manage that in a virtual meeting.
They’re not really going anywhere, but they still want backpacks!

I’m still curious what the paper package learning will be like or how French Immersion will suffer (or shine – I’ve discovered that Elephant and Piggy books in French are an excellent resource from the public library!), but I’m sure we’ll find out soon.

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