(WFSB) – Children have been learning online for more than a month now due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Channel 3 has teamed up with Connecticut’s two teacher unions, the Connecticut Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut, to get a behind the scenes looks at the evolution of distance learning and the impact it has on families and teachers.
The data shows teachers are working harder than ever, still learning as they go and, in many cases,, they’re doing this while caring for their own families.
Ali Kirchberger is a 5th grade “Teacher of the Year” at Hopeville Elementary in Waterbury. Like many people, she never thought the coronavirus would halt life as we knew it.
“There’s no way our district will close, our district is huge and there’s no way we can accommodate and do it and then come Friday, we were closed,” Kirchberger said.
March 13 would be the beginning of distance learning. Students log on daily, get their assignments, complete them and send it back. It sounds easy enough, but in reality, there’s much more to it.
“It definitely took some time to get going, especially in Waterbury,” Kirchberger.
Channel 3 sent an exclusive survey to nearly every public-school teacher in the state. More than 1,000 teachers responded.
One of the questions looked at their stress levels. On a scale of 1 to 10, most are at an 8 or above.
Mary Yordon is the president of the Norwalk Federation of Teachers.
“They consistently use the word overwhelmed,” Yordon said.
It could be because 74 percent of the teachers that responded to the survey said their workload is bigger since the coronavirus.
“It’s definitely been a struggle for some to get it going but we’re getting there,” Kirchberger said.
The survey showed 71 percent said they’re learning this on their own right now.
“Fifty to sixty percent of our members had to figure out ow to turn on Google Classroom, how to load the lessons, how to upload, how to differentiate and set up the assignments,” Yordon said.
Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Miguel Cardona admits the state had just three weeks to roll out an unprecedented form of learning, and even now, the struggles are evident.
“I know in Connecticut, there are many students who still don’t have access. This is bringing up equity and access issues in Connecticut,” Dr. Cardona said.
Everyone from teachers to administrators, to students and their families all across the country were thrown into this.
Students and teachers rely on face to face learning and the ability for a flowing back and forth conversation. Teachers say online learning is diminishing that.
“We don’t do what we do without having that face to face contact,” Yordon said.
Channel 3 asked teachers what their biggest challenges are. The top answer was not seeing students face to face.
“Reading a child’s panicked expression, helping that child four times in five minutes because they just couldn’t understand the directions. All that is impossible when you’re not in the room,” Yordon said.
Their second answer is relying on the technology.
“Being able to provide them original work and tutorials was important to me,” said Wendy Lou Duong, Maloney High School teacher.
Wendy Lou Duong is and algebra teacher at Maloney High School in Meriden. Her subject requires detailed explanations.
Some students need to hear it more than once, but the equipment she received didn’t allow he to break down the equations step by step, so she spent $800 on her own on a Microsoft Surface Pro that enables her to do the show and tell necessary in algebra.
“In the long run, I have 120 students, so it’s like $7 per kid. To me, my kids are worth it,” Duong said.
Not only did she spend the extra money, she goes in the extra step in posting the lessons on Youtube.
Leaving teachers to spend their own money on additional products might be an example of how districts could have done more in preparing teachers for online learning. The survey found nearly half of the teachers felt their district didn’t do well with preparations.
“It’s been a real learning curve for some colleagues who weren’t as far along in the process,” Duong said.
On top of juggling the responsibility of a classroom of dozens of students, about one third of teachers surveyed said they’re doing their best to execute learning plans for their students while caring for their own children, and all teachers seems to know someone in that position.
“She’s an elementary school teacher, so I know she’s definitely feeling the crunch of maintaining the routines, they’re all in different grades,” Duong said.
Around 60,000 laptops were donated, but students are still in the process of getting them, which is taking a toll on families.