With the shelter-in-place going on five weeks, teachers are very much a frontline force in standing up to the virus that’s changed, quite literally, the face of education.
In East County, teachers report the main challenges of virtual learning to be working from home while balancing their own family obligations and missing their students.
The Brentwood Union School District (BUSD) was already on spring break when health officers from Contra Costa County and five neighboring counties announced a shelter-in-place order March 16, just days before Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the state to do the same. The two-week break technically ended March 30, but BUSD administrators, teachers and staff spent the returning week preparing for the task ahead: educating an entire public school population from behind a computer screen. Now, with nearly three weeks of homeschooling underway in Brentwood, rhythms have been established but some fatigue is also setting in.
Kelly McCoy, a BUSD teacher at Mary Casey Black Elementary School, acknowledged the struggle families are feeling.
“I don’t want any of my students to be overwhelmed by anything I assign, and I sure don’t want to add to the parents’ workload,” McCoy said. “I want parents to know that we are working so hard to create a meaningful learning experience oftentimes with programs we’ve never used before. We love our kids and don’t want to stress out our families.”
Another BUSD teacher Christie Liebengood admitted the new system presented a challenge in terms of maintaining balance as both a mother and a teacher.
“There are so many levels of survival to this,” she said. “And if we’re being honest, we’d mostly be done with state testing right now, and school would be about art for open house, field trips and field days if we were in session.”
For the Antioch Unified School District (AUSD), distance learning played out a little differently, since that district does not adhere to the same calendar, but the takeaway from teachers feeling the weight of distance learning runs in the same vein.
Kirsten Rocheleau is a special education teacher at Deer Valley High School. Right now, striking a balance between communicating with her students while maintaining the needs and curriculum for her own 9- and 4-year-old children presents the largest challenge.
“We’re establishing a schedule as best we can, but some days that varies based upon when I have online meetings,” Rocheleau said. “Utilizing online resources, such as virtual art classes for the kids, has been helpful. But some days they fight more. Some days I’m more frazzled. We are taking it day by day. Talking with other moms, even to vent, often helps. As a teacher, like all teachers, we miss our students. Full-time virtual learning is definitely a steep learning curve for everyone.”
McCoy wanted families to know teachers see and understand families’ frustrations.
“I am heartbroken for this loss but also believe this will create a different kind of bond with families,” McCoy said. “I have so much respect for everyone figuring out what works for them and their family.”
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