Editor’s Note: As Cleveland deals with the outbreak of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, everyday life is being disrupted. In our new series “How It Feels,” we’re talking to students, teachers, nurses and those on the frontline of the pandemic to see what it feels like to live life in isolation and transition to new ways of working, thinking and living. Read last week's installment on Lakewood's Distill Table, which is transitioning to a meal prep service, here.
Rachael Dengler and fellow teachers at St. Thomas Aquinas were discussing “what if” when Governor Mike DeWine announced schools would be closing for at least three weeks. Suddenly, the staff had to figure out distance learning in a matter of hours instead of the already daunting days they thought they were potentially facing.
Over less than 24 hours, instructors at the K-8 Catholic school on Superior Avenue were hectically printing out packets and brainstorming how to deliver virtual lectures for the first time. At best, most student’s technology access means a cellphone, though many wouldn’t even have that when their parents went to work. Before they knew Cleveland Metropolitan School District was going to offer to-go and delivery meals at bus stops, they were panicked about how their students, all of which are on free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch programs, would eat.
Now assuming the role of caretaker, many students are overwhelmed by the responsibility, scared of getting sick and unsure of what the future holds.
Dengler is, too.
We talked to the teacher about the anxieties, fears, challenges and unknowns of transitioning to a distance learning program as schools shut down for the foreseeable future due to the coronavirus pandemic.
We didn't think it was going to happen right away. We found out at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday. We had teachers staying at school super late that night. But then Friday was kind of mass chaos trying to prepare for being closed on Monday.
The majority of our students at my school do not have access to technology at home other than maybe their phones, so we had to keep that in mind while we were planning. We needed to figure out a way to challenge them without being able to help them. My biggest fear is for the younger grades. Because if they can't read at all, how are they even going to read the directions?
I decided to hold an Instagram Live lesson every day, but I also have parents who don’t want their students on social media, so they’ve requested that I send them the videos. I also sent as much as I could in paper form, and then I’m trying to supplement that through the technology. I’d say about 75% of my students or their parents have communicated in some way that they’d like me to be in touch with them over the coming weeks.
I chose Instagram Live because the students can ask me questions in real time. I also only had 24 hours to decide, and I decided to spend that time focusing on the lesson plan. It’s not required of me, but I felt like this was the closest thing to having a real class.
I had probably a third of my students log on for my first lesson. I hope it grows, but I fear it’s going to go in the other direction. Some of them are responsible for younger siblings right now. Some of them might get sick. I think they’re worried, and they don’t quite understand what’s going on. I think it’s going to be harder and harder for them to focus as time goes on.
It’ll be really scary to come back to school, if we’re given the chance to do so, and see how far apart our kids are. How are we going to hold these children accountable for work that we were not there to teach them? How are we going to hold them accountable for state tests that we weren't able to prepare them for? God forbid we don't get back to school at all this year, are they prepared to go to the next grade level? Does the entire state go to summer school? I don't know. I think the unknown of what we do at the end of this three weeks, or however long it might be, is really the scary part in terms I can do whatever I can day to day, but the big picture is out of my hands. — As told to Dillon Stewart