New York City Teachers’ Herculean Task: Moving 1.1 Million Children Online!

Dear Commons Community,

Last week was the first week that New York City’s 1.1 million students were back in session, after schools were closed for a week to transition to remote learning. And given that school will be conducted via online technology for weeks, if not through the end of the academic year, the city’s 75,000 teachers are faced with a challenge unlike anything else in their careers: holding the attention of students from ages 3 to 18, educating them in accordance with guidelines, and providing them a patina of normalcy despite not having any of the control of a classroom setting. The New York Times has an article this morning describing the Herculean Task that teachers face in trying to overcome their own concerns to provide a viable alternative to face-to-face instruction. Here is an excerpt.

“Looming over the entire enterprise is a cloud of fear and urgency. It is critical that remote learning succeeds. The alternative is that over a million children, in crucial developmental stages of their education, will be permanently set back, with no opportunity to salvage lost time.

In addition, the vast majority of New York City public school students are poor and an estimated 114,000 students are homeless. Around 75 percent of New York City public school children qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch. For many students, school was often the only place to get three hot meals a day and medical care, and even wash dirty laundry.

It has been jarring, surreal and draining, more than a dozen educators said in interviews, to adapt to a completely new way of working, with everyone forced to interact on screens, for at least part of the school day, as the statistics from the world outside get grimmer and grimmer.

By Sunday, the number of people in New York City who had died from the coronavirus was 776, out of more than 33,474 confirmed cases.

Richard A. Carranza, the schools chancellor, cautioned last week that “not everything is going to go as we plan.” Attendance figures were unclear, since schools were still collecting data from self-reporting.

A “technology gap” persisted in a system filled largely with low-income students, he noted, with 175,000 laptops, iPads and Chromebooks distributed before remote learning commenced to the estimated 300,000 students who lacked devices. An estimated 25,000 to 50,000 wireless-enabled devices are expected to be handed out in the coming weeks, according to the Department of Education.

And while Mr. Carranza urged “flexibility and patience,” he also saluted teachers, administrators, parents and students for “rising to the occasion.”

“We are literally flying the plane as we’re building the plane,” he said.

Kudos to our teachers here in New York City and around the country who are working tirelessly for their students.  As one of my students (herself a teacher in New York) at Hunter College emailed me a couple of days ago “Dr. P.  I am Zoomed out.”


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