Beyond Devices and Hotspots: We are still falling short one year into pandemic teaching
March 13, 2020 is a day that I will always remember. Our state and school district leaders waited until the very last minute to announce school closures due to early spread of Covid-19. Districts around the country were caught with their pants down, metaphorically speaking.
Many teachers grabbed what they could, as they left their classrooms amid uncertainty regarding the virus and return dates.
Some of us were robbed of the opportunity to tell our students what was happening, in that moment, as well as what ‘school’ would look like for the upcoming weeks and months. By April, reality set-in: We were ill-prepared for full-time virtual teaching. Many districts were not 1-to-1 districts; some students only had access to a computer while in school. For those who were assigned a computer, there was no guarantee that they had reliable, high-speed internet.
But some of us knew. Those of us who actually knew our students’ circumstances, knew.
By mid-April, the media bombarded us with stories about districts scrambling to order computers and hotspots. Some districts embarrassingly admitted to having thousands of computers in their warehouses because that is exactly where new technology belongs. Kids in rural communities were also hit by technology shortages.
May. June. July. August. Teachers prepared for the upcoming school year. Districts? I am not sure they were as proactive in their planning as teachers.
Not much changed. There were still technology challenges at the beginning of the school year. Some of the teachers who put together work packets for students in the Spring, did more of the same in August. Several districts in the Metro-Atlanta area turned school buses into hotspots. Despite our less-than-best efforts, we are still falling short…almost one full year into pandemic teaching.
But, why? For starters, equity encompasses more than simply passing out devices and hotspots.
Equity requires leadership to always consider how decisions and new policies will affect members of marginalized groups during the strategic planning phases; not after. Not when Special Education Teachers ask, “What about our students?” If people are always asking ‘what about’ questions, then our organization’s practices and decision-makers are not equity-minded.
Equity requires a higher set of teaching practices and expectations for students from marginalized groups. Some students told me that they did not use computers during the 5th grade, other than for testing.
That means they were not familiar with our district’s Learning Management System (LMS).
That means we started from square one in August.
That means they were denied the opportunity to access technology during their prior years’ learning.
That means someone decided that being tech-savvy was not a priority for my students.
It hurts to make those claims about unknown colleagues, but it hurts more to see the sum total of those aforementioned actions materialize in a learning environment where I am severely limited in what I can do for students.
That means that people continue to have conversations about equity, solely focused on race and ethnicity. Intersectionality does not exist in those Zoom rooms, conversations, and vocabularies of the people making the decisions because my students are Black. Hispanic. Asian. English Language Learners. Students With Disabilities. And Children Of Poor And Working Class Folks. The decisions are not in the best interests of my students.
How disappointing it is to be no better off today, than we were a year ago. A lot of death and brokenness for people who have committed themselves to this work because we trusted the people in charge to lead.
This is who and where we are. Still falling short.