Teachers have a plan for remote learning, but does the community?

by Sarah Jacobson Barrick
| October 16, 2020 7:00 AM

When I first started teaching in 1986, a colleague of mine said, “Teaching is the toughest job you’ll ever love.” She was right ... partly.

I’ve loved teaching and growing along with you, your kids and (pretty soon) your grandkids for the last 30 years in Libby. I love watching students mature as critical thinkers. I love seeing them go on to jobs, trade schools and colleges, prepared to take on the world beyond Libby High School. I love laughing with kids. I love learning with kids. In my classes, we do a lot of both

It’s been rewarding. And it’s been tough.

Teaching, on its own, with no pandemic thrown into the mix, is tough. As teachers, we teach our content, of course, but we also help kids find food, clothing or even shelter; counsel them on relationships or appropriate behaviors; write recommendations and proofread college applications; organize and contribute to fundraisers; watch out for children who are abused or neglected; make connections by attending extra-curricular activities; encourage kids to get involved in sports or activities; coach sports and activities; answer questions or provide extra help after school; stop to say hello to students and families in the grocery store; attend community events to represent the school; chaperone dances and field trips; post grades and answer angry emails; attend classes to stay current and to recertify or renew our licenses to teach; and so much more.

Then the pandemic hit. The toughest job I’ll ever love just got tougher.

I have listened to community members tell me, “The schools need to have a plan.” Parents have asked me, “So what is the plan for the schools?” Students are asking now, “What happens if the schools close down? What’s the plan?”

These are legitimate questions. The school board, administrators and teachers have been working on a plan since last May. We have sent the plan out to the community for input and questions. Given the ever-changing nature of this pandemic, we are adjusting our plan to fit the latest developments.

Today, in class, as I gave my students an update on the school’s plan, I heard students responding to our plan. “We don’t have Wi-Fi at our house.” “What if we can’t attend a Zoom class because we’re busy?” “We have four kids at our house and only one computer.”

It occurred to me, not for the first time, that our plan to educate our community’s youth is only as good as your plan to keep our students learning and moving forward. So, parents, business leaders, Logger Nation, what is your plan?

Do you have Wi-Fi available at your home? If not, where are your kids going so they can receive direct instruction from certified and trained teachers? Do you pledge to offer your business’s Wi-Fi so young people in our community have access to their education? Can students come park in your parking lot to access Wi-Fi?

Do you have enough devices (computers, tablets, phones and so on) so that each of your children can access their classes when needed? With only so many hours per day, it is inevitable that classes will overlap. Does your business have older computers or tablets no longer in use they could offer to students in our community?

Do you have a quiet spot set aside for each child so each can hear and respond to instruction and then work on their own to complete assignments? If not, do you have earphones so they can avoid distraction while they each listen to their teachers? Can your business offer to sponsor headphones for children who need them?

Do you have daycare planned so high school students do not have to watch their younger siblings while they are scheduled to be in class? Does your business have a commitment to schedule students’ work hours outside the regular school hours? Does your business have a plan to provide for parents who need more time at home to supervise their young children? Can you, as a community member, volunteer to help your neighbor with childcare?

Every student deserves the opportunity to a quality education. As parents, you are your child’s first and most important teachers. My colleagues and I get the privilege of adding some specialized instruction to your children’s education. And our community provides an atmosphere in which education is valued.

Teaching during a pandemic is truly the toughest job I’ll ever love.

To make it all work, we have to work together. Our schools have a plan. It requires you. Please plan with us so that, should the plan require remote learning, all of our children get the very best education we, as a community, can offer.

Thanks for caring for our kids!

The author is a teacher at Libby Middle High School, serving since 1990, and a graduate of Libby High School, Class of 1982.