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Schools: focus on students first, then learning


Last Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo finally offered students and teachers certainty about the rest of the 2019-20 school year when he canceled in-person classes through June to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Thank you, Mr. Cuomo.

For weeks, pupils and educators in New York’s schools were left in limbo, wondering whether they should devote themselves entirely to the new online model or wait for classes to resume as normal.

Moving to online teaching and learning was a shock to our education system that left all involved in a state of frenzied confusion. In just weeks, teachers had to move to a system in which most had little to no training or experience. Students, many of whom depend on their teachers, coaches, guidance counselors and administrators for social and emotional support, suddenly lost that network, leaving many full of anxiety at a time of widespread despair.

What most young people repeatedly hear now are stories of job loss and death. Many children and young adults, without the life experience to understand that the nation will emerge from this crisis, remain in a semi-daze, incapable of focusing on their schoolwork as they did two months ago.

Worse, many students are hurting because their parents have lost their jobs, or fear losing them. Worst still, some students have lost parents or grandparents to Covid-19.

Teachers and administrators should, first and foremost, pay close attention to their students’ psychological health during this precarious time, and secondarily to their schoolwork.

The period between now and mid-June will be a time of survival for many people, and no less for students. Expectations of learning must be tempered by the premise that, above all else, our young people must emerge from this time unscathed — psychologically unharmed, in a sound mental state.

The State Education Department canceled all major exams, including the Regents, for a good reason: The normal process of learning has been interrupted, and will not resume for some time.

The nation is at war with an invisible killer. Right now, students’ grades matter less than during ordinary times. What matters is sending a clear message to our young people: We adults will keep you safe. One day soon, we will return to normal, and when we do, we will redouble our efforts to ensure that you learn all that’s necessary to know. Now, however, is not that time.

That is not to say that we should forgo learning, or not expect students to do their work. Rather, we must understand and acknowledge how they are feeling before we can get down to whatever work is possible.

With that said, we offer these suggestions to our schools:

• If teachers are not already doing so, they should meet with their students in live sessions at least once a week, and preferably twice a week. Students desperately need to see and speak with their teachers, but we have heard scattered reports that at least some teachers have not met live with their students for as long as six weeks.

• Each district should decide on one online educational platform for all. Whether it’s Google Classroom or Edmodo, make it districtwide. Employing more than one platform will only sow confusion.

• Students should be assigned homework according to a set schedule, at a given time on a given day, so they know what to expect. Consistency is key, so they can develop a routine.

• Teachers should follow up on homework assignments with live Zoom sessions to explain the work, and not leave it to students to attend extra help sessions, particularly sessions conducted by email.

• Students should not be videoed in class, with the images posted on YouTube, without student and parental consent.

• All teachers in a district should have a single method of taking attendance, and grading rubrics should be provided to students and parents.

• Students should be given opportunities to do extra-credit work to make up for missed work.

We will survive this crisis, and teachers and school administrators will play a key role in ensuring that we do, provided that every district adheres to a set of basic guidelines for online teaching.