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Hybrid classrooms, schools key to 'new normals' in education, experts say

Education experts are discussing how teachers are managing

Education experts discuss how teachers are managing during the coronavirus pandemic, the effects on their students and workplaces, and how they’re handling these challenges.

Resilience and adaptation.

If the pandemic has taught us anything when it comes to the "new normals" of teaching and education, it's that both hybrid classrooms and schools are key to making school work.

But a panel of experts participating in the latest Newsday Live webinar Tuesday titled "School & COVID-19: The Struggles and Stresses of Our Teachers," made clear "unsustainable" describes the kind of education system that's been pressed into emergency use.

Teachers, Half Hollow Hills Teachers Association president Richard Haase said, are feeling overwhelmed at times by the new demands of teaching students. "If you were to ask teachers what they're feeling right now" it would be that this is "unsustainable," he said.

Teachers feel as if they are just "treading water," said Nicole Brown, a fifth grade teacher in the Hempstead School District and president of the Hempstead Classroom Teachers Association, said.

We need to better understand that many teachers now feel the work cycle never ends, said Lauren O'Rourke, a licensed district social worker in the Syosset Central School District. They have to prepare lesson plans for in-person learning and remote learning. And now, "everybody is more accessible now than ever before," she said.

That means email correspondence between teachers and the students and families they serve, remote-learning lesson plans and grading, working to make certain students who remote learn are on the same page with those attending class for in-person learning.

"Teachers want to work at that level they were working at pre-COVID," O'Rourke said, "so they're working as hard as they can to support their students, as well as their [own] families … But this year, specifically, our teachers are kind of feeling there's no point when they're not working."

Compounding all this, the panel agreed, is further reaffirmation of growing inequities between districts. While students in wealthier districts often are easily able to access remote-learning platforms, students in less affluent districts, like Hempstead, sometimes struggle with not having a home computer, a lack of Wi-Fi hot spots or slow broadband speeds, which can impact the ability to follow remote online lessons at home.

Special education, special needs and English Learners also have needs that can't always be addressed adequately with remote learning, the experts said.

A factor too, Haase said, is teachers build lesson plans around the fact that all students will be present for learning on any given school day.

With students in-person learning several days a week and then remote learning others and still others mixing in hybrid learning classes, it can be difficult, the experts agreed, to track who's actually following a daily lesson plan.

That creates chaos in daily lesson flow, Haase said, since what some students learned Monday isn't exactly what all students learned Monday, which means the Tuesday lesson plan needs to take that into consideration.

The panel agreed most students and their families are working hard to follow new social distancing mandates and protocols during school, but are concerned the same might not be true for students during non-school hours. That creates risks for teachers and school staffs and their own families — all of whom can be exposed to COVID risks, despite their own precautions.

For the most part, all agreed that one thing teachers need to do during these trying times is take a mental health break. To understand down time is important.

"We all started school this year with the desire to make it feel and act normal." Haase said. "But it's like trying to find the round peg into the square hole."

As O'Rourke said, "We're all going through the same thing" across Long Island, across the state, across the country. "Have patience with yourself," she said.

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