By JOHN HOWELL If anyone should know what it's like to be a teacher in the times of the coronavirus it is Darlene Netcoh. Netcoh is not only an English teacher at Toll Gate but also president of the Warwick Teachers Union. She's in contact with teachers
If anyone should know what it’s like to be a teacher in the times of the coronavirus it is Darlene Netcoh.
Netcoh is not only an English teacher at Toll Gate but also president of the Warwick Teachers Union. She’s in contact with teachers across the district and hears of the challenges of engaging students when they are cooped up at home and wanting to stay in touch with their friends rather than sitting in a classroom.
Netcoh said teachers are working 10 to 12 hours a day.
“Everyone is exhausted; they’re worn out. This is far more difficult than being in school every day,” she said in a phone interview earlier this week.
In the case of elementary school distant learning, Netcoh has asked the administration to “scale back” the level of work as she is hearing it’s too much for the students and they are not staying engaged.
Speaking of the distance-learning plan hastily drafted during the week-long rescheduled winter break, Netcoh said it is a “good start” and what needs to happen now is some “fine tuning.”
Superintendent Philip Thornton was encouraged by the first week of distance learning, reporting last Friday that 88 percent of the secondary students were engaged, meaning the equivalent of attending class. He said participation by Veterans Memorial Middle School and Pilgrim High School students surpassed that of Winman and Toll Gate students, an issue the administration would address.
Wearing her teacher’s hat, Netcoh described an array of technological tools to interact with students. Google Classroom is used to post assignment and upload documents. Bulk emails that have been used for some time offer instructions and links to websites. Teachers are also using Google Hangout Meets where teachers hold virtual meetings and can see the faces of students in real time. One feature of the program allows for a grid showing the faces of the students as they are looking into their Chromebooks at home.
“You know, it looks like the Brady Bunch,” Netcoh says with a laugh.
But are students learning anything, or just going through the motions?
Netcoh believes so.
“They have already built relationships,” she said of teachers and students. “That’s why it is working.”
Special needs students, students with an IEP or individual education plan, require greater attention. Netcoh said the administration has been “reaching out” to teacher assistants to address this need.
“They’re very involved,” she said of teacher assistants.
On the elementary school level, Netcoh said teachers have delivered packets to students that include projects they can complete with their parents. As an example she cited a “snake in the grass” puzzle created by a kindergarten teacher where the student matches the color of the snake with the grass that includes the color written out so they learn the word.
In a text Wednesday, Thornton said there are things to improve.
“We want to make sure all students have WiFi access and we are continuing our efforts to assist families to that end.”
He added that virtual instructional scheduled have been refined to “better carve out times for respective studies.”
The amount of work assigned “is also being leveled out, striking a balance considering all the subject of instruction.”
The real gap, which students, parents, teacher and administrators question can’t be filled, is the school experience from the school yard games and recitals at the elementary level to the athletics, performances, honors nights, competitions, field trips, proms and graduations at the secondary levels.
So much has already been lost and can’t be replaced.
Thornton is not going to forego high school graduations. That would be too much. If bans on groups of more than five is still the norm by June, Thornton said he would postpone, but not cancel, graduations. If, on the other hand, gatherings are permitted with proper distancing, Thornton said he has thought of conducting graduations at Rocky Point with the seating appropriately spaced and attendance limited to two guests per graduate. As an alternative that would allow for inclement weather, he mentioned at the field house at the CCRI Flanagan Campus in Lincoln.