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  • Nick Romano, Graduate Fellow

K-12 Voices: A New Teacher Struggles in the Pandemic

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

This week I sat down with Julie Morris, a fifth-grade teacher at an elementary school in Fresno, CA. She began her teaching career this fall, so I was eager to get her insights into the difficulties that have arisen for newly hired elementary teachers and their students due to Covid-19. Julie's position as a new hired teacher trying to apply her training to the current situation highlights difficulties that are being experienced by teachers and students all over the world.


STRUGGLES OF YOUNG STUDENTS — AND THEIR YOUNG TEACHER

Julie's biggest challenge has been lack of engagement and participation among her fifth-grade students in the online environment. She reports that getting students to do their work has been a constant struggle, as evidenced by the high failure rate in her class.

Julie has struggled as a teacher, too, because her training and limited experience were not designed around online education. The core concepts she learned for teaching younger kids are not applicable in this new environment. Still, Julie has made the best of her situation using the tools at hand and constant experimentation, trying new things until something sticks.


WHAT ARE THE PROBLEMS?

Although Julie is doing her best, she must work within the school district’s policies and rules. While the district is trying its best to accommodate the concerns of both students and faculty, Julie notes that some policies create additional challenges. For instance, Fresno Unified District does not require students to have their webcams on during class. Although this helps protect student privacy, a teacher has no way to make sure her students are actually present and paying attention.


Although Fresno Unified provides students with laptops, Julie reports that many southeast Fresno families do not have internet access to attend classes. Even for students who do have access, there are other challenges. Julie reports that one of her biggest issues arises because Fresno Unified has a contract with Microsoft, meaning that students must use Microsoft Teams for class materials. Julie says that Teams is a good collaboration hub for adults, but it is far too complicated for 11- and 12-year-old kids to use, and she wishes that she and her students could switch to Google Suite as an easier alternative.


Julie says that the only lasting solution for her students is to resume in-person classes. That said, she appreciates that her students’ safety and her own must come first, and so she will continue to do the best job she can under the circumstances.

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