by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Handling class sizes that shift, simultaneously supporting student learning that takes place live and student learning that does not, and helping students follow health guidelines related to COVID-19 are among the challenges at this point in the school year reported by several teachers to Winona Area Public Schools Board members at their meeting last Tuesday. Discussion about addressing concerns is ongoing between teachers and administrators.
Winona Education Association (WEA) President and Winona Senior High School social studies teacher Linda Pfeilsticker said, “This is the most trying and difficult teaching year that we’ve all had.”
“I would say that while our teachers are working incredibly hard, and the appreciation to have students in school is evident … they’re the ones that are making us smile during the day — the hybrid is a very difficult model to be in,” Pfeilsticker continued.
She said the hybrid model is the most challenging to maintain, as teachers must teach in-person and manage asynchronous learning as well. Asynchronous learning refers to any situation in which learning is taking place without live engagement with an instructor.
Class sizes are also fluctuating as students move between distance and hybrid learning, Pfeilsticker shared. “And that puts a lot of pressure on teachers to be able to service the needs of those students in a timely fashion and to what we feel our standards should be at this point,” Pfeilsticker noted.
Teacher Elizabeth Wright reiterated Pfeilsticker’s comment about fluctuating class sizes presenting a challenge for teachers. Wright shared that there did not seem to be a definitive way for teachers to keep students who have to quarantine in their classes post-quarantine, as those students get moved to teachers who are managing classes which receive education fully through distance learning. Teachers managing classes that receive education completely through distance learning have a high number of students, she added.
“And I think like Linda [Pfeilsticker] said, the fluctuation of kids coming in and out, and then if you do not have the room for them in your classroom, then where would those kids go that would normally be in your school building, but there’s not room for them, and then they need to go somewhere else,” Wright said.
Teacher Dheadra Wang agreed with the concerns raised by Pfeilsticker and Wright. She also noted that speaking through a mask while teaching leads to voices being worn out.
Board member Allison Quam said she was interested in funding allocated for COVID-related expenses going toward purchasing microphones for teachers to use.
Teachers also have to ensure students’ safety by providing them support when they struggle with wearing masks and remaining socially distanced, Wang said.
Overall, staff members are “really tired,” Pfeilsticker said. “By March in Minnesota, everybody is pretty tired in education … We’re looking forward very much to spring break. We’re March-tired in October,” Pfeilsticker explained.
Teachers are keeping in touch with parents and students, she said, and getting ahold of them when necessary. “We’re trying at times to track down parents and kids to find out what’s going on and to try to help them make for sure that they know that we’re not in the same situation as last spring, and that the expectations for a full education are there …” Pfeilsticker noted.
Teachers are “constantly on our computers” working, and some are only able to spend time with their loved ones on Saturday, Wang shared.
“It is a huge overload,” Wang stated. “We love having the kids there, and we love to be able to support them, but we’re struggling, I think.”
Quam said she was interested in considering how teachers’ responsibilities outside instructional time spent teaching students, such as meetings, could be reduced. The various types of work teachers do to interact with students could be evaluated as well to determine whether they could be counted as instructional time, she shared.
Conversations to address concerns
The hybrid model has been in place for some time, Pfeilsticker said, and it would be possible to begin evaluating the model to find ways to improve it.
Board member Karl Sonneman asked whether conversations about the hybrid model are ongoing between teachers and administrators.
There is an ongoing discussion, Pfeilsticker shared, and a broader conversation about how the hybrid model could be improved at different grade levels could now begin. Discussion with other districts about what is and is not working for them could take place as well, she shared. “So I don’t know that I can give you any specific examples of solutions that we have right now,” Pfeilsticker stated. “But I do believe the discussions will be continuing in the immediate — well, I know they’ll be continuing in the short-term — but in a much larger level and much larger scale in groups like meet and confer.”
Sonneman said he would like the board to receive updates on how the conversations are going.
Board Chair Nancy Denzer encouraged teachers to bring their concerns to their WEA representatives so the representatives could discuss those issues at groups such as meet and confer.