We now live our lives in prescribed phases.
The first phase of life with COVID-19 was alarm and fear: What is this “coronavirus”? How dangerous is it?
The next phase was adjustment — on the job, at home, with our families: How must we schedule our lives if most living occurs at home now?
Then came the frustration: “How long will this go on? What can and can’t I do to maintain the safety and well-being of my family?”
Now we seem to be entering the “longing” phase: I long to get back to life as normal. I want to go on my planned summer vacation. I need my kids to go back to school in September!
I suspect the final phase will involve some kind of acceptance of our new lives under the threat of the virus’ resurgence.
Not exactly Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — but they’re pretty close, which makes sense, considering that life under COVID-19 does involve grieving a former way of life.
Gov. Ned Lamont has scheduled the public-policy version of these life phases, with Phase One of the state’s reopening scheduled for Wednesday and Phase Two to follow on June 20.
Schools also are experiencing phases. Phase One for my school district began on March 23, during which we first wandered into this foreign land known as “distance learning.” As our superintendent, Holly Hageman, noted, it was all about “getting launched, learning or refining how to work through an electronic platform, and engaging students.”
Phase Two commenced on April 27. In sum, guidelines for distance-learning assignments and assessments were more clearly defined and, most importantly, teachers were encouraged to make connections with students, especially through the use of personal videos and electronic class sessions: “Let students hear your voice sometimes, show your personality, use humor or share about your pets or your life to create a sense of normalcy for students,” explained Dr. Hageman.
Phase Three was still undefined at that time, but as we approach the end of this most unusual of school years, I wonder about the next step: What will it entail? What lasting changes in schools can we expect? Will distance learning assume a permanent place in public education?
I described the beginning of Phase One as a type of “adventure” about which I should expect the unexpected. My concerns were twofold: the potential shortage of digital devices and the challenge of teaching children requiring special modifications.
The availability of digital devices is always a concern, but distance learning has magnified the issue. The Partnership for Connecticut’s donation of 60,000 laptops distributed to Connecticut’s Alliance Districts certainly helped. But long term, this matter will endure, as school districts will need to continually update electronic resources, which means they will continually have to pay for them somehow. Not to mention the matter of internet access itself, which is problematic for students in urban as well as rural areas.
I have found my second concern — helping special-education students — to be more daunting within the remote-learning environment. Successfully reaching all students has been a challenge.
Clearly, many of the students who require modified or accommodated assignments are struggling. I have been in constant electronic contact with my own students — as well as with their special-education teachers and paraprofessionals — but it’s simply not the same as working side-by-side with them. Difficulties and questions are not always addressed spontaneously, and corrections can be difficult to communicate electronically. We’re all doing the best we can, but nothing will replace the genuine, in-person, human interaction that these children need for support and growth.
The same reality applies to all kids. Remember, we’re not talking about young adults attending college classes of their own volition and often paying for them with their own money. We’re talking about developing children — in my case, teenagers — who might not place school at the top of their priority lists. Consequently, I’ve seen a few students go AWOL or submit assignments only periodically. Other students simply opt out of attending virtual class sessions.
It’s as if distance learning is not “real school” for these kids. And that’s the point.
E-learning was never intended to replace school. It’s a stop-gap measure for K-12 education under COVID-19. It will never duplicate physical attendance in a classroom populated by other children. Nor should it.
As much as remote education will undoubtedly play a role as education evolves, figuring out just how much is the key. That process will comprise Phase Three of education in our “life of phases” — which only raises the question: What will Phase Four look like?
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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