Sunday, 17 May 2020

The reinvention schools really need: Four New York teachers of the year push back at Gov. Cuomo

Just like a governor, a teacher giving face-to-face instruction is important.
Just like a governor, a teacher giving face-to-face instruction is important.(Darren McGee/Darren McGee- Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

March 18 was a difficult day. It wasn’t so much that the statewide closure of schools created uncertainty for us. The real fear was not knowing how our students would manage with remote learning.
But you don’t become a teacher, let alone state Teacher of the Year as each of us has, without dealing with the hard challenges that come with being an educator. As professionals, we’ve been challenged to think creatively about how we deliver instruction, which is a lesson we will carry with us when schools eventually do reopen.
Still, we know something is missing.
Simply put, there isn’t a substitute for the learning that happens in-person in our classrooms. It’s not just the ability to challenge students intellectually by calling on them to answer a question at the board. It’s the laughs. It’s the high-fives. It’s the one-on-one conversations in which we can pick up on clues that tell us whether the material is sinking in or if a student has brought to school a personal issue that we must deal with before we can worry about the lesson of the day.
The governor recently started a conversation around reimagining education. In announcing his Gates Foundation-led effort to rethink the state’s schools, he mused, “The old model of everybody goes and sits in a classroom and the teacher is in front of that classroom…and you do that all across the city, all across the state, all these buildings, all these physical classrooms — why, with all the technology you have?”
We’d like to explain why. Before we do, we’ll be the first to admit that technological innovation has brought much good to our classrooms, before and during the pandemic.
Katie has taken her second graders on virtual field trips to museums, cultural institutes and zoos across the country and used videoconferencing to meet and collaborate with classrooms in other states and even with a class from Belarus. Amy has used grading apps that allow her to provide real-time feedback on assessments, enabling students to learn from their mistakes instantaneously. Rachel quite literally teaches digital citizenship to students, recognizing that one of their generation’s most important lessons to learn is how to create a more inclusive, thoughtful and smart digital community.

But what makes these lessons effective are the human connections behind them. The connections we foster with our students in the classroom cannot be replicated entirely through screens and or phone calls. “Maslow before Bloom,” as its known in education circles, is the educational philosophy that says we have to ensure our children feel safe first so they can be prepared to learn.

Alhassan has built a “zero period” course around exactly that idea, holding class with seniors an hour before school every day to impart the life skills they need to succeed academically, socially, professionally and economically. Part of the focus is on interpersonal communication and the human touch needed to be a successful person and improve the lives of others.

To teach our students those kinds of skills, we recognize we can’t do it alone. We need more counselors and psychologists to help students address the stresses and pressures they bring with them to class. We need smaller class sizes. And if we are to use this opportunity to learn a lesson about how we can improve the way we deliver instruction digitally, we need to ensure there is equity in access to technology both at school and at home.

The biggest challenge of course is that these things cost money, and every school district across the state is now bracing to make cuts, not new investments. If there ever were a time for federal and state policymakers to deliver for schools, it’s now.

That’s how we want to start the conversation about educational innovation. It might not be easy. But it’s the right direction for our students.

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