Pinellas County’s top school officials don’t want to hear the unvarnished truth about the difficulties of teaching kids sitting in classrooms and those tuning in from home at the same time. They made that clear in recent days by refusing a request to survey teachers on simultaneous teaching, waving aside an opportunity to gather information about an important issue that has a profound impact on how much kids are learning. There is a logical conclusion: District officials are scared of what teachers will say. They fear having to respond to a torrent of complaints and to fix a system that isn’t working, at least for many teachers. Instead, they’ve buried their heads in the sand. We all know how well that turns out.
In reaction to the pandemic, Pinellas offered the choice of attending classes at school or online. Many teachers have students in class and online at the same time, instead of separate classes for each. The idea is to keep classrooms partially full, which helps with social distancing during the pandemic. But the results have been less than ideal. Many teachers have trouble effectively communicating with both sets of students. The Pinellas teachers' union suggested a survey would provide valuable feedback. The district said no. Apparently, it doesn’t need the data, nor does it want the constructive input provided by an anonymous survey. The attitude comes across as arrogant — everything’s fine here; no need for improvement.
The district said it had a better plan, which included principals sending letters to teachers asking about simultaneous classes. But the wording — provided by the district — didn’t sound inviting. “I am asking you to let me know if you believe that, currently, you are completely incapable of delivering instruction simultaneously,” it stated. “Completely incapable?" Who wrote this letter? The Evil Queen from Snow White? It’s hard to blame teachers for concluding that responding to such a request could affect their future evaluations. The district doesn’t seem to want to understand the issue, while blaming teachers who are trying to make the best of a difficult situation. Meantime, students in the classroom and at home suffer — simultaneously.
Like others, the Pinellas teachers' union squandered some credibility earlier in the pandemic with its over-the-top rhetoric about how opening schools would be sending teachers to their deaths. But the union is on the right track in its quest for a better understanding how well simultaneous teaching works and how to improve it. A well-done survey could provide valuable insights into how to ensure teachers and students get the most out of pandemic-era schooling.
Schools can’t operate exactly as they did pre-pandemic. District officials have had to make the decisions under challenging circumstances. But when it comes to simultaneous teaching, denial and willful ignorance won’t help. Pinellas' teachers and students deserve better. Do the survey.
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