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Dear Covi

Dear Covi,

I know we have not met, and I hope you’re not offended when I say I hope we never do. Covi might seem informal, but you have had such an impact on my life I feel like I know you. I think it would be okay to drop the formal Covid-19 title and speak to you heart to a virus.

You must be proud because you are having quite an impact on the world. You are in the news daily. People fear you are in buildings, on objects, and in the population. Your presence is so unwelcome people are distancing themselves from others to the point where sports are not being played, restaurants are only serving curbside, and businesses have shuttered. You have been quite a downer on the world economy. I wish I could tell you in more detail the damage you have done in these areas, but I am not an expert. What I can tell you about is the impact you are having on teachers, administrators, students, and parents across the United States.

School districts around the country are shutting down. In the short term, some are closed for a month with hopes to reopen later this spring, while others are shuttering for the rest of the academic year. You might think you could hear the cheering from all concerned as far away as the moon, but Covi, you would be wrong.

For teachers, their classrooms are like their second homes. They are comfortable there and do what they can to make comfortable spaces for their learners. Their classrooms are familiar places with tried and tested tools and resources. Teachers have had to leave this user-friendly world behind, but they have not stopped thinking about their students and education. Instead of the classroom, teachers have been told they will be practicing their profession online. Although many in education think this will be an easy adjustment because digital technology is ubiquitous in the education world, they are wrong. Administering a class in cyberspace is a completely different world of learning. It can be done effectively, but the approach is foreign to even the best of classroom professionals.

Those who think this adjustment is a snap because they may have taken an online class or have worked with Google Classroom are wrong. Unfortunately, this is an attitude many administrators have. When district administrators knew about your unwelcome presence and closed schools, they were only able to provide a few days of training for their staff to transfer their considerable talents to the digital medium. It was not enough, Covi.

In the world of online education, professionals facilitate. They don’t work as traditional “teachers” because the whole method of working online is different. One does not simply teach; instead, one creates learning opportunities. Learning experiences are created using engaging tools not used in the normal classroom. You see, Covi, learners are usually alone and not in groups and must be guided through the process. A facilitator is more sherpa than a teacher. Facilitators are experts in guiding the education process, not leading it. Sherpas keep the learning process in line, moving towards a destination.

            The shift from classroom leader to guide is not an easy one. Unless someone has been on my side of the screen, they have little clue how to make this happen. Unfortunately, most people have not been on this side of the screen. Thanks to you, Covi, and a level of ignorance, the stress level for classroom professionals has gone through the roof.

Administrators, thinking education numbers derived from standardized or end of course examinations are valid, have mandated that education must continue. I know one who has mandated two weeks of lesson plans to be on their desk and set a four-day deadline for these plans to appear. Of course, neither the teacher nor the administrator knows how to create two weeks of lessons in four days, but neither does an online course designer. A designer knows it takes months to create two weeks of quality learning.

Covi, I hear in my many ZOOM meetings you are single-handedly changing the perception and practice of education in America, and in the long run, you may, but some changes must be immediate.

  • Administrators and teachers must realize virtually everything they are doing is a stop-gap measure and quit worrying about test scores. Maybe some will realize those test scores never did measure student learning, teacher effectiveness, or school climate.
  • Everyone must face the reality that students may be digital natives, but they are not digitally fluent. They understand digital technology as a toy and not a tool.
  • Teachers must understand less is more and the learning process is in the hands of the learners and their parents, not the teachers. They can provide stimulating activities, readings, and interactives, but direct instruction is not a “go-to” option.
  • Districts need to see the inequity of their students' educational experiences. Too many learners lack digital tools and consistent wifi connections. District leaders must aggressively address the issue with state legislators. The needs of the child must come before the scores of the district.
  • Students need to know how much their teachers miss them and how hard they are working to provide the best learning experience they can, given their limited experience and toolbox. Parents need to understand this and realize a piece of technology or a school is not the primary means of learning about the world; parents are the true sherpas.
  • Everyone needs to lower expectations, stress levels, and begin to plan a better future for American education. Perhaps what we were doing before you visited was not as effective as we thought.

So Covi, I hope your visit with us is short. I know, you will not get the best of professional educators in this country. We will continue to learn, to care, to improve, because teachers know there are few perfect days and no perfect educators or learners. We will persevere and thrive, even better than you.

Sincerely,

John Tierney


John Tierney was a secondary classroom teacher for 33 years in Northern California and rural Nevada. He attained his masters degree in Instructional Design Theory from American Intercontinental University and is working for PBS TeacherLine where he has been a national facilitator for 14 years.





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