By Fran Yanor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
New distance learning plans can’t replicate in-school classes, but many teachers are struggling with stress and guilt at falling short of that expectation, according to the local teachers association president.
“Absolutely the district is not saying we need to replicate the classroom experience,” said Joanne Hapke, president of the Prince George District Teachers Association. “But teachers are feeling the need to do that, or are misinterpreting the message and feeling like they have to be doing that.”
Seeing the work of fellow educators online can compound feelings of inadequacy.
“A lot of (teachers) have incredible plans,” said Hapke, whose association represents 1,000 teachers in the district. “But then if I don’t have the same plan as you, there’s guilt attached to that.”
Under new guidelines set out by the Ministry of Education the majority of B.C. children will begin school from their own home on Apr. 13. Teachers largely determine what must be taught and how.
“We have to be realistic,” said Cindy Heitman, deputy superintendent of School District No. 57.
Heitman has a son due to graduate this year.
“As a parent, all I could think about is, this is Grade 12; he’s going to university next year.”
She had to take a step back and trust his teachers.
“They’ve got that learning piece under control, I’ve put my trust into them,” she said. “I’m there to support, encourage, and say, ‘Let me know if you need some help.’”
Heitman said the key for teachers is to build relationships with their students to make sure they feel supported and connected.
“Teachers have been really working hard to reach out to parents and make sure there’s a connection and good access to resources,” said Jill Joslin, vice chair of the Valemount Elementary School Parent Advisory Council.
Emphasizing connection over traditional education deliverables is a left turn for some teachers who are hard-wired to deliver curriculum as the priority.
“The district is saying, ‘connect with our kids,’” said Hapke. “But not everyone is hearing that message.”
After many spent spring break trying to figure out how they would educate kids under the new conditions, their first task back was to reconnect with their students and begin developing a plan.
Each teacher’s plan will vary depending on the needs and situation of students.
“Everyone is doing the job differently based on the requirements of the families that they’re working with,” said Hapke.
Just establishing a process for ongoing communications with each student adds a layer of complexity for teachers.
A grade 10 teacher in Prince George, for instance, will communicate quite differently with students, compared to a grade three teacher in a rural area who may have some students without a computer or access to high speed internet.
With or without internet, teachers are making sure all students have access to the learning materials they need.
“I feel like everyone’s doing a pretty good job on this,” said Joslin.
Some families will prefer to be emailed, others texted or phoned. Most students will access materials online, while other families will want everything mailed to them.
The school district has purchased Office 365 which has a feature to create virtual classrooms. The Ministry of Education has a Zoom licence and the school district has a secure Zoom account to facilitate safe and secure learning environments.
“(Still) when we move into teams, we have to think about those who don’t have access,” said Heitman. “So we do teams with conference calls so everybody can hear.”
Then there’s the actual teaching of the curriculum.
How does a teacher, used to educating one-on-one in the classroom, restructure learning for a range of students, off-site, and in many ways, beyond control of the very person tasked with teaching them?
Teachers are asking questions, trying to find answers and working towards solutions, said Hapke, who added it’s no one’s fault but there is tremendous pressure on everyone within the whole system to pull things together in what feels like too short a time.
“People are handling the pressures differently,” she said. “We’re problem-solvers. We all know we have a job to do.”
To ease pressure off families, the school district has encouraged parents to be parents, not teachers.
“Parents don’t need to put the pressure on themselves to do active academic learning so much,” said Joslin, who had just returned from a field trip to the lake where her children discovered insect cocoons. “Just spend time with family doing things that you love.”
For now, teachers also have to give themselves permission to do what they can, when they can.
“The job will get done,” said Hapke. “As long as we are reaching out and connecting to our students, and asking them how their day was, and giving them feedback and support, those are our priorities.”