Where Was the Support?
We recently passed the one-year anniversary of school closures in New York City, which means that I have been engaged in remote / hybrid teaching for over a year. You might be surprised to learn that, during the past year, the NYC Department of Education has provided me virtually no support or training on how to teach remotely. Unless you’re a teacher, in which case you wouldn’t be surprised at all.
The lack of guidance at the outset of emergency remote learning in the spring of 2020 is somewhat understandable. Everyone was caught off guard, and schools and teachers were given a week to figure out how to do something they had never done before. Sure, it would have been nice if someone at the country’s largest school system actually knew something about remote learning — it certainly isn’t new — but at that point the best most of us could do was just react.
It was disappointing to return to school in the fall and discover that, after three months of emergency remote learning and an additional two months of summer to prepare, the DOE still didn’t have anything helpful to say about the practice of remote instruction. I’m sure some high-priced consultants or over-paid administrators prepared some unusable documents for us, and maybe a platitude-heavy keynote or webinar was offered. But the details of how to actually make this work were left up to the teacher. As those details usually are.
I was lucky to have a handful of thoughtful colleagues I could bounce ideas off, virtually observe, and share successes and failures with. This helped me identify the pressing issues I needed to deal with, and allowed me to converge on a system that, for the most part, works for me and my students. I doubt my teaching would win any awards this year, but students are learning, math is happening, and progress is being made.
The amount of struggle and independent effort required to reach even this point makes me wonder, where was the support? A year of remote learning was predictable enough in the face of a global pandemic. How is it that an expansive administration, one that oversees 75,000 teachers that serve 1 million students, had virtually nothing helpful to say about how to best implement remote instruction? As has happened so often throughout my career as a teacher, it seemed like it was all up to me to figure it out for myself and my students.
Midway through the year some teachers at my school ran workshops based on training in remote learning they received from Columbia’s Teacher’s College, an education school which enjoys great prestige. In these workshops the teachers told us what they learned about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and the difference between a recall question and a thought-provoking question. I remember listening to the same thing 20 years ago in my required education courses, and it was about as helpful then as it was now. I came to the same sad conclusion I came to 20 years ago: If this is the best they have to offer, I’m probably better off figuring it out on my own.