An occasional series from the Doctoral Scholars Program on postsecondary topics.
From 2007-2014 I was a full-time doctoral student in social work at the University of Alabama. The program involved writing an annotated bibliography, writing and defending an integrative paper, taking comprehensive exams, and writing and defending a dissertation. My life was consumed with this and travel between my home state of Mississippi and my surrogate city and state, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I made little time for self-care. I would leave Tuscaloosa on a Friday and return either Sunday evening or leave at 5:30 a.m. on Monday morning. I missed my family, friends, and the comforts of my Mississippi Delta home life. My home was my outlet.
In April, my mom called me with the news that my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Metcalfe, who was rounding out his 42nd year of teaching, had died from COVID-19. I knew him from class, of course, but I also went to school with his son for 13 years and his family attended my grandparent’s church.
He was respected, loved and honored for his excellent teaching. His funeral was an all-day parade of cars through the high school parking lot, where community members waved and shouted condolences to his family. My mom said the cars stretched down the street for miles.
“How can states use education and workforce dollars to turn things around?” SREB President Stephen Pruitt asked during the first of six weekly SREB webinars on how states can help their workforces recover from the impact of COVID-19.
As a former teacher and principal in New Mexico who now works with educators across the country for SREB, I shared many educators’ concerns when the pandemic forced most schools online.
As the new school year starts, however, I’m discovering that some of the digital tools we’ve learned to use while teaching online can provide new ways for teachers to support students’ academic growth.
A major issue for my generation, the millennials, and for Gen Z as well is deep, suffocating student debt. For those who want to enter teaching, a career that is not compensated handsomely, this debt can be even more daunting.
Many teacher candidates work full- or part-time jobs in addition to attending classes. When they enter their student teaching period, whether for a semester or a year, these candidates are expected to give over their time fully to student teaching, which makes working nearly impossible.
Many states have a critical issue with retaining early-career teachers, no matter their preparation pathway. Oklahoma has one of the more severe teacher shortages, with 57% of new teachers leaving the profession by their fifth year, compared to 44% nationwide.
One of the top reasons early career teachers leave is lack of support. Better early career support would help solve the costly problem of having to prepare and hire a new teacher each time another leaves the profession.
Given the diverse array of urban, rural and suburban schools and technology centers SREB serves, you might assume that students’ school and classroom experiences would vary more based upon where they live — for example, a student in urban Atlanta compared to a student in rural South Carolina — rather than the classroom or school in which they are enrolled.
We found that this is not always the case.
Only about 29% of Black working-age adults in SREB states had at least a two-year college degree in 2017. Meantime, many Black students and others find it increasingly difficult to pay for college.
And that was true even before COVID-19 took hold.
As schools and districts prepare for the new year, student and staff safety is top of mind. Many are buying extra cleaning supplies and developing protocols for social distancing, wearing masks and proper hygiene.
At SREB, we hear daily from teachers and leaders in search of strategies for delivering quality instruction while meeting safety guidelines. They ask:
“How do we reconnect with “lost” students who lacked access to online learning this spring?”
“Will social distancing require teachers to lecture to students sitting in rows?”
Louisa County, Virginia, sprawls across the vast countryside between Richmond and Charlottesville. Only 5,000 students attend the county’s public schools, even though it’s more than an hour’s drive from one end of the county to the other.
High-speed internet, or any internet service at all — cell-phone service, too — doesn’t reach many parts of the county.
When the schools were forced online in March by the COVID-19 crisis, county school leaders wrangled with how to help more students and families get online for class.
“I learned how to support all of my students, no matter what format I’m asked to teach in — even those students I thought we could never serve outside school walls.”
As we prepare to enter the new school year, one thing is certain — education is not going to look the same. The uncertainty of these times offers us opportunities to create a better experience for each of our elementary students, especially those with special needs, such as students with special needs, English language learners and students who need Tier 2 or Tier 3 instructional supports.
“I just saw where we will have kids in class only two days a week and the rest will be virtual. I don’t think I can handle it.”
“All students will be online to begin the year… I cannot go through what happened this spring again.”
I saw comments like these in an online teachers’ forum when districts began issuing their school reopening plans. Although reactions like these are common, there’s no need to panic.
Keeping communities informed about schools during COVID-19
Suggestions from SREB task force, communications experts
How can states, districts and schools keep clear lines of communication open with their families and students as schools plan for reopening this fall?
“Communication is a critical aspect to getting our schools reopened,” said SREB President Stephen Pruitt, “for parents to feel comfortable with bringing their kids back to school.”
More of today’s college students are raising children while in school, and they’re a larger, faster-growing group than many colleges institutions and policymakers realize.
Nicole Lynn Lewis, the founder and CEO of Generation Hope, joined SREB for a webinar on June 11 to discuss how institutions can build and strengthen support for student-parents. Her organization assists teenage parents—men and women—who attend college in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.
We’ve all heard the saying “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” When it comes to state policies affecting the teacher workforce, it’s important to see both.
Teachers make life-long impressions on thousands of students — over 3,000 in an average career — and help raise every generation to understand the world and become productive, well-rounded citizens.
In the drive to improve students’ reading and math achievement in the elementary grades, science has sometimes fallen by the wayside. This despite widespread acknowledgement of the importance of STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — to current and future workforces.
Things are tough for college students right now. The COVID-19 crisis, which has disrupted life everywhere, is “quite possibly the single most disruptive event in American higher education in at least a half century,” according to the Atlantic, one that has “left students scrambling to wrangle flights home and pack up their dorm room.”
After weeks of struggling with the fallout of COVID-19 — working remotely, social distancing, helping neighbors when we can — I’m quite sure no one needs to be told that we’re living in “unprecedented times.” That seems clear enough.
Our teachers are coping with a digital environment that most were not trained for, trying to maintain their focus on equity to be sure every child has a chance at a quality education, meanwhile managing houses and budgets and families and concerns about their health, as we all are. It’s more than anyone was prepared for.