Last month, nearly overnight, Maine’s 15,000 public school teachers shifted to remote teaching in the wake of COVID-19. Within a matter of days, they got up to speed on the various online teaching methods and helped their students, who were just as uncomfortable, navigate the sudden changes.
I’m very proud of our teachers, staff, administrators, and parents who have taken this in stride. In the past month, this adjustment has not been easy for anyone. And yet, even as they learned last week that online learning would likely be the reality through the end of the school year, our educators have rolled up their sleeves and continued the good work.
Many teachers have found connecting to their students seamless, with technology such as Google Hangout, Zoom, and Google Calendar, but it’s not an even playing field for everyone. Some students are in difficult home environments, others don’t have access to all the technology they need, and teachers have an endless number of hurdles to overcome.
We all know that teachers provide more than a lesson plan. They offer emotional and social support to their students. In this new environment, teachers have also gone above and beyond the classroom setting.
One third grade teacher, in addition to teaching his students during the day, takes time to ride the school bus three times a week to help with food delivery. I’ve been helping deliver food to students on the bus and watched from the school bus as he personally delivers the lunches and breakfasts to some of his students on the route.
When other challenges have arrived, staff and administrators have worked together to get students the resources they need. Despite technology being the sole thing we’re all relying on to keep us connected, technological challenges persist.
While schools made sure students received laptop loaners if they didn’t have one, internet access in our district is still spotty. While both Comcast and Spectrum have promised to expand access to families without cable internet at no charge, this only applies to homes where poles and wires already exist. If you live beyond their service area, this is not a solution.
We are finding that to be a challenge where I teach, at the University of Maine at Farmington, as my colleagues try to teach their courses online without reliable service at their own homes. Teaching in their offices would be preferable, but due to the need to abide by good public health practices, they are teaching remotely and adapting accordingly.
In school districts in our community, undaunted teachers have made distance learning packets available to their students without internet access. Recently, teachers followed the Bath bus route and, when lunches were dropped off at homes, teachers provided math books for those students.
And where would this all be without parents to make this work? Parents, some of whom are now working from home and some of whom have been laid off from work, have also found themselves in a new environment, juggling a new schedule they never expected to be in. Not only are they doing their best to maintain some normalcy in their lives and provide the emotional and social support school offered, they also find themselves directly involved in educating their children. Getting creative with family field trips to examine vernal pools, gazing at the night sky, or uncovering new growth in the backyard are now commonplace and offer new venues for learning.
This creativity, patience, and perseverance has not gone unnoticed. At the RSU 1 school board’s recent meeting, administrators and school board members alike marveled at the work being done. “I’ve never been more impressed with our staff in my life,” said one administrator. “I’m in awe and darn proud,” remarked a school board member.
Pender Makin, Maine Department of Education commissioner, has taken steps to reduce the bureaucracy that often hampers educational administrators by waiving the minimum number of days in the school year and state assessment requirements for the year. Other arrangements have been made for student teachers.
In witnessing this remarkable transformation, both in its imperfection and in its creativity, I urge other employers to consider remote working arrangements. If school systems across the nation and globe can switch delivery operations in such a short time, we should be supporting similar arrangements in other businesses. We are all adapting to this new world and I am proud to be part of this work. As always, please reach out if you need anything.
(Rep. Allison Hepler, D-Woolwich, represents Arrowsic, Dresden, Georgetown, Phippsburg, part of Richmond, and Woolwich. She sits on the Marine Resources Committee.)