When public schools in Maine opened this fall, many gave students options for remote learning or hybrid classes, which mix both virtual and in-person instruction. But that’s been a challenge for many teachers, who say meeting the demands of this new system has left them exhausted after only a month of classes.
At Deer Isle-Stonington High School, students have had a number of options this fall: they can go to class five days per week, opt for one of two kinds of remote learning or choose a “hybrid” model that’s a mix of the two.
“It’s really brought about a different style of teaching. And added in a lot of layers that, when you just have kids in-person, you don’t have to think about, or have to worry about,” says Betsy Woodward, a health and physical education teacher at the school and president of the local teachers union.
Woodward says she now has to create new, digital presentations for every class period in order to help virtual students follow along and get the same information as those who are in-person. And she says because remote students sometimes can’t hear teachers speaking through their masks, some are prerecording voice-overs for each lecture.
“It adds work,” she says. “You know, it’s more time developing remote lessons. It’s more time trying to find time to check in with your asynchronous learners, because you don’t have them online, during your classes, live-streaming, so the time to check in with them. And so it adds, we sort of figured, it’s about double what we’ve been doing. Compared to a non-COVID teaching year, our workload has doubled.”
In Augusta, second-grade teacher Caroline Eldridge says administrators have offered time every Wednesday for teachers to prepare, and adapt lessons for online students or those who may be absent because they’re in quarantine. But Eldridge says she’s still working long nights in order to keep up with questions from families and students, who are also navigating this new kind of education for the first time.
“It’s very overwhelming. And I have a lot of experience,” Eldridge says. “And so I’m helping a lot of the new teachers who need a lot of help. Even the teachers that have just a couple years need a lot of help and support right now.”
The increased workload hasn’t gone unnoticed. At a legislative briefing last week, Maine Deputy Education Commissioner Dan Chuhta said that the state has partnered with retired teachers to create a “warmline” — a phone number that school staff can call to help manage stress and anxiety.
“And so somebody who’s in a school, who just needs somebody to talk with, can call up, and they have somebody on the other end of the line, who also has walked in their shoes, to some degree,” he said. “And can talk with them about being in schools, and those feelings of being overwhelmed.”
And despite the fact that local school districts have limited resources, many are trying to find money to help teachers. At a school board meeting last week, Ellsworth Curriculum Coordinator Rachel Korhman-Ramos said that the district is using federal coronavirus relief funds to compensate teachers for their extra work, and are also looking to hire additional staff to help with remote learning.
“We want to use this money to help teachers get through this,” she said. “Because we know teachers are working hard. This is not work that you’re not doing, anyway.”
Other districts have decided to limit teacher responsibilities. Ken Williams, who teaches middle school science in Nobleboro, says when his school was planning for fall reopening, teachers specifically requested that they only work with in-person students, not those learning remotely. Administrators agreed, and Williams says virtual students are instead using a separate learning program. And so far, Williams says this fall has been one of best years of his teaching career.
“Bringing back the laughter, and the banter, and the silliness associated with middle school, and at the same time, you’re actually trying to push some content their way, it’s just been great,” he says.
But Williams says he still hears the stories from other districts: teachers exhausted and working long hours to keep up, and is hoping the virus won’t force his school to move to remote learning, even temporarily, anytime soon.