Distance Learning Educators Bridging the Digital Divide TpT Blog

By Michelle Cummings, TpT’s VP of Content

This pandemic is universally disruptive, yet it has caused many to have an increased appreciation of the vital role that educators play in our lives. You might have seen Shonda Rhimes’s tweet: Been homeschooling a 6-year old and 8-year old for one hour and 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week.

That sentiment is shared by many who know that educators are working tirelessly to invent a new educational delivery system, with families as co-teachers. The pace of change has been breathtaking.

My heart aches as educators share how much they miss their students. When her state closed school buildings for the year, an elementary teacher in Oregon posted, “Today I feel like the puzzle I started in September got ripped out of my hands, torn apart, and scattered all over town…I want them back…I want a world for them that feels content, like fitting in the last piece of a puzzle.”

Educators also worry about the myriad ways this crisis affects different households and homeless youth. During the 2016-17 school year, the National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE) estimates that about 1.36 million public school students experienced homelessness. As long as socioeconomic status continues to have a predictive effect on student achievement, the pandemic will disproportionately harm students with fewer resources.

For our most vulnerable students, educators are worried about their ability to eat, their safety, and why they haven’t engaged with schooling in weeks. Teachers have long worried about the “summer slide,” and now the “COVID slide” will likely cause even more significant opportunity gaps. Erin, a third grade teacher in Illinois said it this way, “So just knowing that if we go back to school or that the kids I teach next year, they’re gonna’ be behind more than they already were…”

So educators are making plans and iterating quickly to fight against such backsliding. For example, I spoke with Elizabeth, a high school English teacher in rural Kentucky who prepares 10-day packets for distribution because of students’ lack of access to technology. Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, KY responded to this moment by shipping 25,000 Chromebooks to homes and publishing printed packets for distribution at meal sites. 

Advanced Placement teachers in Colorado have developed online curriculum and Zoom lessons to prepare students for the newly modified open-book/open-note exams. Brice, a 3rd grade teacher in Wisconsin, developed an extensive distance-learning curriculum for his students in a dual-language immersion program. In addition to academic outreach, teachers and counselors have emphasized the importance of checking in with students to support their emotional needs. A social worker in New York City creates videos for students to model calming strategies and hosts virtual counseling sessions. Schools provided stability in students’ lives, and with that temporarily removed and increased stress at home, educators are working heroically to stay connected with students and parents, even across the digital divide.

As of May 15, Ed Week’s school closure map showed, “48 states, 4 U.S. territories, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) have ordered or recommended school building closures for the rest of the academic year, affecting approximately 50.8 million public school students.” Bernadette, an elementary teacher in Reynoldsville, OH, expressed a commonly held concern, “There is going to be a gap somewhere. We’re going to have to make a lot of adjustments next year.” To bridge those gaps, administrators have started considering changes to the school calendar. If the virus recedes in the summer, will schools scale-up summer sessions or start the school year earlier? If a resurgence of the virus occurs in the fall, will districts reinstate distance learning? In North Carolina, the state General Assembly passed a COVID-19 relief package that included changes to the school calendar, starting schools a week earlier on August 17.

COVID-19 has disrupted all of our institutions, and they will be forever changed—education included. No one knows exactly when and how this pandemic will end, but we do know that creative, dedicated educators are adapting quickly to reach and teach students and support families through this crisis. Teachers may be physically isolated at home, but they are not alone in solving these complex challenges. I’m in awe of the powerful community of educators sharing their knowledge and resources through Teachers Pay Teachers, including this free distance learning toolkit. I am inspired by the ingenuity of educators who are fighting against COVID slide and won’t stop until they are reunited with their students on the other side of this pandemic.

Michelle Cummings is the VP of Content at Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT), where she oversees the Education Content and Insights (ECI) team and brings the PreK-12 perspective to inform TpT’s day-to-day operations and strategic directions. Michelle has had an extensive career of over 30 years in education, serving as a middle and high school English and social studies teacher, an elementary and high school principal, and a Chief Academic Officer.

[Editor’s note: This blog originally appeared on LinkedIn in April 2020 and has since been updated for TpT’s blog on May 27th, 2020.]