June 05, 2020
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For teachers, connecting with kids during the pandemic takes priority over academics

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
David Armistead, associate head of school at John Bapst and AP psychology teacher, works from an office at his Bangor home.  Armistead schedules his teaching time around his family, all who need to be online for either remote learning or instructing. Teachers are creating new techniques to teach remotely since schools have been closed due to the coronavirus.

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Everyone in David Armistead’s home is either a student or an educator. As the coronavirus pandemic has forced the six members of his family to stay home, Armistead and his wife, Susan Bennett-Armistead, juggle working remotely, teaching classes online, taking care of their children and helping them with their own remote learning.

The new normal in the family’s Bangor home entails planning who connects to the internet when and designating times when different family members use the home office. Armistead, the associate head of school at John Bapst Memorial High School, teaches Advanced Placement psychology remotely. Bennett-Armistead, an associate professor of literacy at the University of Maine, is teaching online, too.

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While a schedule helps the family keep track, Armistead said it’s important for parents and students across the country to forgive themselves for not having time or resources to do it all. No set of virtual learning tools is going to recreate a classroom.

“This is a really unique situation that everybody’s in,” he said. “Take it easy on yourself. Nobody expects you to be perfect.”

It’s too early to judge the long-term impact on students from shifting learning from school buildings to their homes for what could turn out to be the remainder of the school year. It’s impossible to know because the coronavirus outbreak has created a set of unprecedented circumstances.

But the lost academic learning from this period, particularly for younger students, isn’t what parents and teachers should worry about most, said Nermeen Dashoush, an expert in early childhood education who teaches at Boston University. It’s their overall well-being.

“We have created systems where we’re getting our children ready for standardized tests and have lost track of what early childhood education really should be,” she said. “It should be about teaching them how to be together, teaching them social skills, teaching them about themselves and their emotions, teaching them about their community.”

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Patricia Ortiz, a science teacher at John Bapst, teaches base pairing to her students during a Zoom meeting about DNA synthesis and structure. Teachers are doing their best to create new teaching techniques and rising to the challenges of remote teaching since schools have been closed due to the coronavirus.

The potential emotional consequences of the pandemic, which are being studied right now, are more concerning than the academic consequences, Dashoush said. To that end, she said, the priority for parents, teachers and school systems should be on ensuring children’s well-being, safety and mental health are intact and that their basic needs such as food and shelter are met.

For teachers, that means some of their most important work right now is simply connecting with students and checking on them.

On a Maine Department of Education video conference Tuesday afternoon, teachers from school districts across the state met virtually to discuss tools to use for elementary students. The discussion quickly turned to the importance of connecting with and checking on young learners.

“Your students want to connect with you,” said Beth Heidemann, a virtual learning expert and former kindergarten teacher who was leading the session. “They want to hear your voice read them a story because this is a weird time and they want to have what’s familiar.”

The best digital resources, Heidemann said, are not online worksheets, education games, pre-recorded videos, but platforms that help connect students to other humans and learn from them.

“When this crisis is past and teachers are back in their classrooms, teachers will know how to leverage technology in a new way to help their students connect to the world,” she said.

Meanwhile, parents and students should not be approaching this time as homeschooling, which operates under a planned curriculum, according to Dashoush.

“If there is a positive thing about this, it’s for our children to be a little more independent at home and break away from the constant routines that we have for them,” Dashoush said. “In a world where they can’t book swim classes and music classes followed by after-school programs, families can learn to just be at home and interact with each other.”

Watch: How does COVID-19 spread?

 


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