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Giving Voice to “Overwhelmed” Educators

Nearly 2,000 members of AFT Connecticut and Connecticut Education Association (CEA)-affiliated local unions during the second week of April participated. PreK-12 teachers, nurses and other certified education professionals from 159 local, regional and statewide districts, from Ansonia to EastCONN to the technical high school system provided input.
 
The results highlighted shared challenges adapting to distance learning since Connecticut’s public school buildings closed to slow the spread of COVID-19. That was the focus of the first of three news reports on the survey produced by the project’s media partner, WFSB-TV Channel 3. 
 
Mary Yordon (right), a French teacher and president of our affiliated Norwalk Federation of Teachers, told WFSB’s reporter that participants “consistently use the word, ‘overwhelmed'” in their comments. 
 
District administrators were understandably unprepared in mid March to scale up distance learning for an extended period — let alone the remainder of the school year. Seventy-four percent of survey respondents reported an increased workload, from preparing both digital and written lessons, to mastering online contact and video chat formats.
 
IB Image“It’s been a real learning curve for some colleagues who weren’t as far along in the process,” Meriden Federation Federation of Teachers member Wendy Lou Duong (left) told WFSB. A math teacher in the Silver City’s Maloney High School, she invested $800.00 out of her own pocket on computer hardware to boost the learning experience.
 
“In the long run, I have 120 students; so it’s like $7.00 per kid. To me, my kids are worth it,” Duong told WFSB’s reporter.
 
Click here to watch the segment featuring Yordon and Duong.
 
The survey also shed light on the struggle of parents in under-resourced communities to provide technology at home that could facilitate their children’s on-going education. Forty-four percent of teachers identified the “digital divide” as the most significant obstacle to meaningful distance learning for their students.
 
IB Image“Some students just don’t have the wherewithal to figure out what to do,” Patty Roy (right), a member of our Windham Federation of Teachers’ executive board, told WFSB’s reporter. A 6th grade reading and social studies teacher in Willimantic’s middle school, she has taken on the additional role of providing support for many children unfamiliar with “ed tech” tools.
 
Roy, whose district schools have previously suffered deep service cuts, added, “we need to think about if something like this happens again, what are we going to do for resources.”
 
Click here for WFSB’s segment on the digital divide that features Roy’s comments.
 
The survey results were gathered as state officials were considering when to safely return to in-person learning. 
 
Just two weeks after the submission window closed, AFT Connecticut President Jan Hochadel and CEA Executive Director Don Williams were appointed to the governor’s Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group. As members of the body’s Education Committee, they reported the survey’s findings that just 16 percent respondents felt safe returning to the classroom “as soon as possible.” 
 
A week later, the state education department’s commissioner during a joint tele-town hall with union members from both federations predicted buildings would remain closed for the school year. The governor made it official with an executive order the following Tuesday.
 
Click here for our podcast episode with highlights of the discussion with Dr. Miguel Cardona.
 
Policy makers were wise to heed teachers’ concerns expressed in the survey findings. They should continue to do so going forward; 73 percent of respondents reported they expect permanent changes to public education in Connecticut as a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis.
 
Click here for WFSB’s final segment on the survey featuring Roy and Hochadel.
 
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