This is the Coronavirus Schools Briefing, a guide to the seismic changes in U.S. education that are taking place during the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.
Want to know what teaching looks like in 2020? Check out this viral video from Mackenzie Adams, a kindergarten teacher in Washington state, as she mightily tries to get the attention of her young pupils — and teach them how the mute button works.
“It’s keeping them engaged and looking at me,” Adams, 24, told The Times. “That’s where those facial expressions come from and those big gestures.”
Teacher TikTok is a booming new genre, as educators across the country post their Baby Shark stunts, enthusiasm and tears under hashtags like #teacherlife2020 or #teachersoftiktok, garnering millions of views.
For teachers with younger students, it’s especially challenging to hold their focus — and teach them the life skills that may not be learned easily on video chat.
“The academics are going to get done,” said Arielle Fodor, a kindergarten teacher in California, who has been documenting this semester in videos. But she worries about their social skills and fine motor skills: “How do you hold a pencil? How do you make a friend?” On video chat, that’s harder.
“I am like: ‘OK, I know you don’t have the motor skills for this yet, your muscles in your hands don’t do this, but can you drag and drop?’” said Fodor, 28. “‘Can you click a button with a trackpad?’”
Some of Fodor’s best tips for virtual learning — games to play, apps to use for story time — have come from other teachers on TikTok. They’re encouraging one another and sharing strategies, a socially distanced platoon trying to weather an uncertain school year. Tech frustrations are universal.
“My biggest stress is the connection,” said Sofia Murillo, 23, a kindergarten teacher in Nevada who recorded a video about computer glitches. “When I see a kid wanting to answer a question and then they’re devastated because I tell them, ‘I‘m sorry, I can’t hear you,’ it breaks my heart.”
To help students remember how to unmute, Adams holds up a paddle with the picture of the microphone icon.
“Go ahead and turn your microphone on for me,” she says in the video, calling on a student. “What kind of picture do we see? Hmm,” she said, tapping her lip. And then, silence. “Can you get your microphone on, so we can hear you?”
(Download TikTok to explore those teacher videos while you can: The Trump administration announced this morning that it plans to ban the Chinese-owned app from U.S. app stores. )
Anguish in New York
Mayor Bill de Blasio once again delayed the start of most in-person classes in New York City on Thursday.
The abrupt reversal, fewer than five days before in-person classes were set to begin, came as a wrenching surprise to parents, teachers and administrators when our colleague Eliza Shapiro broke the news on Twitter. (One of our colleagues wrote to fellow parents: “Is every parent group text in N.Y.C. just constantly/angrily sharing Eliza’s tweets today or just mine?”)
“I’m beginning to think this is part of a secret plan to mentally and emotionally break me,” one principal tweeted.
“It is mid-September and there is still no plan on how to educate children,” said Natasha Capers, a parent in Brooklyn who described the latest delay as “a punch in the gut.”
The mayor did not apologize for the last-minute delay, which left many families scrambling to arrange child care. Asked by a reporter about his message for furious, frustrated, exhausted parents, de Blasio said that many “outer borough” families are “pragmatic” and “understand the realities of life.”
“For many educators and parents, this is the right plan, but announced at the wrong time,” Eliza writes. “Dozens of principals have been calling on the mayor to delay the start of school and then phase in grades, starting with the youngest children, since early August.”
Staffing problems for the city’s hybrid approachare a primary cause for the delay. The city and the teachers’ union had agreed that educators should not be required to teach both in-person and remotely. So schools have been scrambling to create two sets of teachers for two complementary versions of schools.
It is unclear how the city plans to close its staffing gap of what might be several thousand teachers, even with the extra time allotted.
Around the country
In Rhode Island, more than 80 students at Providence College tested positive in two days. The college is shifting to remote learning for a week.
In Maryland, bouncers who once checked IDs at college bars are now also reminding patrons to wear their masks, The Baltimore Sun reported.
The University of Georgia has reversed a widely-criticized decision to scrap on-campus voting in November because of the pandemic. The school’s football stadium will be used as a polling center.
Across the country, low-income students are dropping out of college at alarming rates, The Washington Post reported.
At least 42 percent of employees in U.S. schools are at high risk for severe Covid-19 cases, according to a new study.
Tech problems still plague Connecticut schools. Hamden lost internet for almost the entire second day of class.
Chalkbeat reporters are documenting the stories of high school freshmen across the U.S. in a new project. In their first installment, they spoke to Jalan Clemmons, a ninth grader learning remotely in Memphis. It’s an excellent, intimate look at the start of the school year.
A California judge shut down in-person learning at a private school that was defying state and local health orders.
Schools are spending a lot of money on thermometers and other temperature checks. It probably won’t work: Children can be contagious without being symptomatic.
Share your virtual learning tips
Teachers, we bow down. Thank you, really, for your tireless work and love.
We loved the tips being shared on TikTok, but would also love to hear from you directly. What’s your advice to other teachers, to keep students engaged? What’s working for you? What … isn’t? Let us know. We may feature responses in a future newsletter, or story from The Times.