As an extraordinary year draws to a close, area public school teachers are breathing a small — if temporary — sigh of relief. They praise students and colleagues for rising so quickly to the challenges brought on by the pandemic, but they also worry about the uncertainties that lie ahead.
EmmaJulia Jones says she’s inspired by how quickly everyone at J.T. Moore Middle School responded to a crisis that changed education overnight — especially her fifth-grade students at the Green Hills school.
“It was really amazing to see them take charge of, ‘OK, I can do this, although I am 10 or 11 years old. I’m able to adapt and make changes and ask questions.'”
Jones has also come to really like Schoology, the online teaching platform that Metro implemented for the entire district just last month.
“You can give students feedback via video and you can talk directly to it,” she says. “You can give them feedback through comments.”
Still, only about half of her 200 math students completed any assignments. They didn’t have to; grades were frozen when schools shut down. Jones doesn’t know what it would look like if she had to teach an entire year online.
Metro Nashville Public Schools is planning for three classroom scenarios this fall: entirely remote, entirely in-person, or a combination of both. And according to a recent district survey, two-thirds of Metro students have a computer at home.
But that still leaves 22,000 who don’t, and 10,000 who don’t have internet access.
“It’s the kind of stuff that keeps you awake at night because you just don’t know what’s going on with them,” says Leila Nelson. She teaches eighth-grade English Learners at Henry Oliver Middle School on Nolensville Pike, Nashville’s immigrant corridor.
Nelson has even delivered food to some of her 45 students, but still hasn’t heard from more than half of them. Some only have one phone in the family, which belongs to parents who need it for work, or who don’t speak English well and don’t answer.
The students she has reached, she’s been rallying to self-motivate. And they have, she says:
“I’ve had text messages at 10:00 o’clock at night saying, ‘Hey, help me with my science work,'” she says. “And, OK, cool. Let’s do it!”
Working late was fine, says Nelson, because her rambunctious 2-year-old was finally asleep. Her husband, an engineer, also jumped in to help kids with homework sometimes. And she too likes Schoology.
But none of these things helps students who don’t have the resources to learn from home, she says. Or those who have special needs, or are younger and require more guidance.
“It’s already difficult under normal circumstances,” she says, “and now you’re gonna have this huge population of very vulnerable children who are now going to lose out on their education, kind of no matter what.”
Especially, she says, when teachers start grading and taking attendance again. District officials say that will begin in August when classes resume.
They also hope to provide computers for those kids who need them, but officials aren’t sure the funding will come through in time.
And not all teachers will be back when school starts up again.
After 40 years, Lois Coles, a Brentwood Middle School teacher, taught her last class this week.
“When it’s all over, I can honestly say I’ve been through it all,” she says.
Coles’ final class was online. The last time she and her students were all in the same room, it was a test day and everyone was rushing to get out. She told them she’d see them tomorrow.
“That’s heartbreaking, to not be able to say goodbye, they’re my last class,” she says, adding that she wanted to “wave at the bus as it rolls out the drive to take them to take them to a fun-filled summer.”
She knows summer is very different for everybody this year, and that next year won’t be easy for parents, students or teachers.
And while she couldn’t watch a school bus take her kids away, she did stand by the side of the road and cheer them on, as they rode by her and other teachers during an end-of-year parade.