| Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Teachers in the Sarasota County School District are widely dissatisfied with a new requirement for them to provide both in-person and remote instruction, and district leaders are working on adding preparation time for teachers into the school calendar in the coming months in response.
Surveys conducted by both the teachers’ union and the School District showed that teachers feel overworked. On Tuesday, district spokesman Craig Maniglia confirmed that the administration was working on plans to give students one day off in October and November to allow teachers more time to prepare.
“The majority of the problems we are hearing is they don’t have the physical time to do this,” said Sarasota Classified/Teachers Association President Pat Gardner said. “They are working nights, Saturdays, Sundays, not even seeing their own kids anymore.”
Administrators developed the new model, referred to as “concurrent instruction,” over the summer to provide an alternative for families that did not feel comfortable with their child returning to the physical classroom due to COVID-19.
The majority of teachers in the district now wear microphones and live stream their classes to students watching from home. The idea is for the “remote learners” to be able to participate in class as if they were present, rather than simply completing online lessons and watching pre-recorded videos.
The union surveyed 1,201 teachers, and 77% said that the current model was not an effective form of instruction. Several said they were working extra hours, and many complained that the technology was not adequate for the new requirements.
“The cameras cut out and stop working, (and) they have to be constantly adjusted for remote learners to see what is happening,” one teacher wrote.
“It is very hard for my concurrent students to hear me or the other students,” another said.
Only 6% of teachers in the union survey felt the concurrent model is effective, and 16% responded with “other.” Of those, many explained that they felt it worked for some students but behavior issues, technology glitches or lack of preparation time made it impossible for others.
“It works, but only because teachers are putting in 14-hour days,” wrote one of the “other” responses.
The new model allows parents a real-time view into their child’s classes, and the survey shows that some parents are interrupting, asking questions or not making sure their child has the materials and environment they need to participate.
Families that opted for the remote option agreed to set up a quiet area to learn, and to supervise, but not participate in, their child’s remote learning. The survey showed that 41% of teachers do not think parents are complying with the concurrent teaching rules.
“Some truly are following the rules and doing well, but the ones who aren’t are taking over instruction time by interrupting or their child not knowing what to do and missing out on having the proper materials in front of them,” one teacher said.
“I feel like I am being judged every day, every minute, every second by parents,” one wrote. “Please note that this is half of the parents, but half is way too much.”
Others complained about parents covering for their child, walking around shirtless in the background or not being home to help elementary-school aged children when they have technology issues.
The new model requires “excessive” planning time, 85% of the respondents stated.
“This is my 14th year teaching, but I feel like a first-year teacher all over again,” one said.
“I’m failing miserably as a wife and mother to my own children,” wrote another, who said she had been working nights and weekends on lesson preparations, despite being a 22-year teaching veteran.
The teachers in the union survey overwhelmingly said they want the district to eliminate the concurrent model and instead have all-remote or all in-person classes. Eighty percent said that is what they wanted, with just 5% opposed to such a shift and the remainder selecting “other.”
Despite the complaints about concurrent teaching, shifting to all remote or all in-person would create massive upheaval with school scheduling, and it would likely result in many in-person classes being as full as they would be in a normal school year, increasing the possibility of COVID-19 exposure. Plus, as many teachers noted in their responses, shifting now would mean undoing months of work to get the new system running.
Several teachers commented that the new system was far from perfect, but they understood there were limited options. And others urged their colleagues to calm down and lower their expectations of themselves for 2020.
“The ones who are going nuts are trying to be everything to everyone,” one teacher said. “They need to chill out. And learn technology.”
The district conducted its own survey of teachers, which showed that 84% said they did not have enough time to prepare for concurrent teaching. The district’s survey did not provide for written feedback, but 56% of respondents said they were having issues with remote learners not connecting, and 34% were dealing with parents “interrupting, being inappropriate (or) helping too much.”
Union leaders said they hope to have some official word on accommodations for teachers in the next few days, and SC/TA Executive Director Barry Dubin said Superintendent Brennan Asplen “has been really good on the subject.”
Maniglia said any change to the calendar would require the School Board’s approval, so Asplen was ensuring the move would have board support before making any official announcement.