Teaching in the Time of COVID-19

April 24, 2020

K-12 education has been awash in inequity for centuries. At UnboundEd, we’ve been paying attention not only to the disparate educational outcomes across different racial groups, but to the systemic, differential levels of provision that are pervasive in this country. Black and Latinx students are less likely to have experienced teachers and less likely to be offered engaging instruction that’s standards-aligned. Let’s also recall that, as of 2019, there is still a $23 billion gap between funding that nonwhite schools receive and funding that white schools receive.

We’ve also been watching as educators, often caught in a swirl of ever-changing mandates and untold pressures, show up every day to do their level best for the kids in front of them. And they often do this inspiring work at great personal cost. A recent national study showed that 58% of teachers are struggling with mental health and 61% of them are stressed out. 

And this was all before the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools for more than 50 million students who, if fortunate enough to have working devices and wifi, now learn remotely in their kitchens and living rooms from teachers who may also be teaching their own children from home. Getting the fundamentals of remote instruction up and running has been a challenge. 

The COVID-19 crisis has magnified the disparities that we have always known to be true. It is discouraging to observe how these racialized inequities are now being carried over disproportionately to the health and mortality of brown and black communities during the national pandemic. It is discouraging, but sadly, not unexpected due to the systemic racist policies and practices that have ravaged these communities for decades, including disparities of housing, food resources, and access to healthcare; the list is daunting but not unfixable. And while data are only beginning to be collected, there is already some evidence that students in large urban districts, who are already often denied access to the rich, grade-level instruction they deserve, are having even more limited access to instruction during the transition to remote learning. 

How are educators faring? Our community is telling us loud and clear: the situation is extraordinarily taxing on teachers and school leaders, only adding to the stress they were feeling before the outbreak. Yet among all of the barriers and historic inequities, we see what we at Unbounded have always known to be true: the resilience, persistence, care, and concern that educators hold not only for their roster of students but the communities that they serve. Despite lacking resources, the teachers, leaders, and greater educational community have heeded the call to action to extend learning beyond the brick and mortar of the schoolhouse into the homes of their students. 

While it can be tempting to throw out proven practices and invent a new “panic pedagogy” or “telepedagogy,” we posit that today, we should, more than ever, lean into the fundamentals of equitable instruction. Doing it in a remote context may look different, but the Five Charges we promote at our Standards Institutes have never been more relevant. Here are a few ideas: 

  • Anchor remote instruction to aligned materials. Regardless of the delivery method, we know that high quality, standards-aligned materials make a difference for kids. Our site has hundreds of aligned lesson plans ready for teachers to use and adapt to meet our current circumstances. These aligned materials support the building blocks of knowledge, critical analysis, and the ability to apply learning in new contexts that our students will need to propel our nation’s future. 
  • Use our content guides to deepen the understanding of the standards. Remote learning still requires deep, precise knowledge of the fundamentals of what the standards say. Totally digital and free to use, our content guides provide a quick, digestible way to build this knowledge even amid disrupted schooling. While created to support teachers and leaders, these guides can also open a path to communicate strategies that our students’ families can lean on when supporting distant learning.
  • Use our bias toolkit to hold a virtual PLC session. Doing real equity work requires examining bias and having conversations about race. Our freely-available bias toolkit provides frameworks and materials to facilitate frank conversations about race. We invite you to consider using these virtually with your PLC or local school community.
  • Hold a virtual listening party with “The Complexion of Teaching and Learning.” Brandon White’s second episode is out. Consider listening to it with colleagues and using the discussion questions to talk about how new knowledge of past racist practices can inform our work today.
  • Create space for grace. Stress affects teaching and learning. As we collectively transition to this new way of delivering equitable instruction, let’s give ourselves permission and time to explore these standards-aligned materials as we identify lessons that work for students. Perhaps we’ll struggle with some lessons and some technology, but we are learning and growing every step of the way in the service of students. Equity always matters, whether online or in person.

UnboundEd stands with educators and families that are coping with this disruption. Though the coming days will bring further change, the fundamentals of our pedagogy will see us through; we know that justice is in the details of teaching and learning. The challenge of undoing inequity every day through teaching appears more daunting than ever, yet we retain hope that on the other side of this international crisis are the promises of a more just education for all students. Further, we hope that our society continues to be reminded that our educators are not only essential but should be more highly regarded, not just in words, but in policies and practices.