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I work for a nonprofit charter school in Chicago, teaching special education to third-graders who attend general-education classes. I serve students who are poor, black and live in a violent area.
When the coronavirus struck, my school switched to remote learning. Now third grade is almost over, and districts are announcing their plans for remote summer school.
Experts like former Education Secretary Arne Duncan have suggested mandatory summer school for all. I teach in the nation’s third-largest school district, where Duncan previously served as CEO.
Since the switch to remote learning, I work twice as hard and twice as long as I ever did when I was teaching in a classroom. And I was working very hard then.
The switch to remote learning means I develop lessons from scratch that comply with indivdualized education program (IEP) goals.
I seek out the best technology resources for my students, learning how to use the various sites, while staying in contact with parents and children, and helping them navigate the technology.
I also grade assignments, attend multiple weekly school meetings and produce reports on missing assignments. I document all contact with parents, children and service providers and produce school-requested reports. I supervise a first-year paraprofessional with no technical skills. And on it goes, often 12 hours a day.
I just don’t think remote learning works.
When kids look at screens, they are used to animation, games, characters, music; they are either playing games or watching lively television.
There is no way a teacher on Zoom can compete with that. Now that we’ve switched to remote learning, I see teachers turn themselves inside out trying to engage students, but it isn’t working.
No matter what teachers do, no matter what websites, videos or PowerPoints they use, the kids often just don’t pay attention. It is boring. They would rather be playing Roblox.
I am someone who came to teaching late and was drawn to teaching reading to special-education kids. Teaching remotely is so much harder than teaching in person, especially for the population I serve, who need multisensory instruction.
Much of the population I serve is using borrowed devices, shared among multiple siblings, with no one at home who can help them with the technology or the academics. Or they have no WiFi. Or a family member gets sick and they have to move in with a relative.
Learning remotely is harder as well. When you are used to sitting at a table with your peers — working together on a project, doing paired reading, being able to ask the teacher for help throughout the school day — and now it is you and a computer, even with Zoom, that’s a huge difference. And not for the better.
When I think of having to continue to work 10- to 12-hour days all summer on something that hasn’t been successful, I can’t even fathom it. I just don’t think I can do it. For my own sanity, I would likely quit.
There is already a severe shortage of special-education teachers and if I did leave, it’s unlikely they’d find a replacement. I don’t think I am alone in feeling this way. All of the teachers at my school are feeling enormous pressure and stress.
Just doing more — and longer — remote learning isn’t the answer. Of course there is going to be regression. It will happen all across the world, for the most part. I believe we need to look at all possible ways of dealing with regression, and combat it with a plan that is backed by research and best practices. Our approach needs to be meaningful to both students and teachers, and it needs to ameliorate the effects of remote learning nationwide.
This story about summer school and whether remote learning works was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.
Susan Sciara is a third-grade special-education teacher at Legacy Charter School in Chicago.