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LETTER: Just ask a teacher about technology

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As I approached my college graduation in 1990, the word on the street was that Dorchester District Two was the premier school district in the tri-county area.

As pre-service teachers, we did our research, made our contacts, and put out feelers with the hope of securing a coveted position as rookie teachers in DD2.

I was lucky enough to procure one of those desired spots and was thrilled beyond belief to launch my teaching career in such a venerated and supportive district.

Fast forward to 2020. I will not lay blame on any group of people, organization, or governmental group for the unprecedented circumstances into which we’ve been thrown.

I will, however, admit that I have been an elementary teacher in DD2 for 31 years and have never, ever been more disappointed with the recent decisions made by my employer. Once considered a revered organization, DD2 has abandoned its teachers and left us to “fly the plane while it’s still being built.”

Case in point: in what world is it effective to dissolve the school-based Instructional Technology Specialist position when the possibility of virtual learning is looming on the horizon? That decision has proven disastrous…just ask a teacher.

Some DD2 teachers were not given the option to teach in the newly created Virtual Academy; they were told they’d be filling the positions.

They were also under the impression they would be receiving a curriculum specifically designed for virtual teaching because their files would not be effective due to the difficulty of converting them into a usable format. DD2 purchased 1,500 licenses for the Calvert virtual curriculum; however, at the end of the first week of school, VA teachers discovered that said curriculum was only going to be provided to the virtual teachers of the upper-grades. How are those primary/elementary grade Virtual Academy teachers managing? I’d venture to say that they’re feeling left behind, but go ahead and ask them.

Technology matters arise on a daily basis even in a traditional learning environment, but in a virtual setting, issues are exacerbated ten-fold.

As a result, we are left being held responsible for overseeing a “classroom” full of students while online, teaching our state’s curriculum standards while online, providing mandated online social-emotional support to our students, differentiating instruction by pulling small groups online, and solving difficult technology problems for which we have no experience.

We received no training on how to manage all of the above save for videos that explained only the how-to basics. We can watch every video there is, but not one of them explains how to effectively resolve all of the complications that arise in one day of virtual teaching…just ask a teacher.

The district’s technology department issued a few thousand webcams to its teachers without first researching the camera’s compatibility with existing hardware; this resulted in an inordinate amount of time lost even with several people working on the glitches.

With no on-site ITS, the district’s solution is to hand off the snags to Cantey Technologies; however, many report that it’s impossible to run a hybrid or virtual class effectively when immediate help is a necessity, which would not be a problem if the district had not removed the ITS from the schools.

Hot spots were issued to families who applied, but a breakdown in communication caused district personnel to pass the buck and hand problems involving those hot spots off to other district employees who were only doing as they were told. The absence of our on-site technology assistance, the webcam issues, and the breakdown in communication have set us up to fail…just ask a teacher.

When COVID-19 reared its ugly head last spring, and spring turned into summer, school officials were forced to discuss possibilities and options for the return of students in the fall.

As the time drew near, decisions were made, revised, and finalized. And then came the multitude of changes. At no point were teachers involved in this vital process. Sure, there were surveys…parent surveys and teacher surveys, but the planning and implementation were faulty…just ask a teacher.

Teachers are in the trenches, and we are on the front lines. We get the job done, build relationships, and get dirty. All we ask for is to be heard; however, the decisions that affect us the most are made by those who haven’t stepped foot in a classroom for years.

If a representative group of teachers had been formed and participated in the decision-making process as we prepared to return this fall, I guarantee those great minds would have been able to foresee many a conundrum. Instead, our district officers faced the Board of Directors during a live-streamed meeting and spoke for every, single one of us saying, “Our teachers are excited about e-learning.”

But no one asked a teacher.

Kellie Swoyer

Newington Elementary