SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Nearly all U.S. schools scrambled to remote learning when the pandemic hit. As last semester faded into summer, districts scrambled to reopen or not, go all remote or not, or often to somehow blend the two this fall. Susan Heydt teaches at Donegal High School in Mount Joy, Pa., and joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.
SUSAN HEYDT: Thanks for having me.
SIMON: So where did Donegal land?
HEYDT: We started out with a face-to-face five-day-a-week option, and the district also offered a virtual option. And then we had some parents who came back and said, well, can I send my kids a couple of days a week and have them home on other days? And the district allowed that to happen as well. So we have multiple things happening with a lot of revolving doors as people sort of settle on what's best for them and their families.
SIMON: Ms. Heydt, what are the special challenges for great teachers to teach in so many different ways and platforms?
HEYDT: It was very difficult to try and figure out how to build meaningful relationships with kids when some of them were on the screen behind you, some of them were on your computer, some of them...
HEYDT: ...Were in your classroom. And I will tell you that the district really did a great job in preparing us for the needs of the kids. We had trauma-informed training over the summer so that we would have some background for what kids might have been facing...
HEYDT: ...During the long time that they were at home. So we're sort of wearing the hats as trauma-informed specialists, mom, school nurse. We've got the added hat of custodian, where we are wiping down desks in between each class.
SIMON: Sounds like an awful lot of extra work on your part.
SIMON: I have to pass along to you a complaint that I have from an anonymous 13-year-old...
SIMON: ...About blended teaching. And she says the two days a week she spends in the classroom are pretty worthless because she and her fellow eight students, I think, they fit into that small classroom are sitting so far apart from each other. There is no interaction. And they can't hear each other in the classroom, and they can't hear the teacher, who is behind a mask. And even more unnerving, the teacher still has to teach to the laptop because, you know, half of the class is online.
HEYDT: I don't feel that way about what's happening in my classroom, and that really surprised me. I went into this really expecting that everybody was going to be getting a 20% education. As a teacher, I find it really hard because I look at the camera and think, oh, that's the back of my head. And now I'm talking to the class, but the rest of the people are seeing the back of my head. So I do think that there's a little bit of that.
We do have some restrictions in that we're supposed to limit the amount of instruction that we give to the online learners so they're not all having to buy blue lens glasses to be able to, (laughter) you know, do that much time looking at the screen. So we ask them not to look at their screens and that there be some sort of meaning activity, whether it be a discussion or something, that they can do with their eyes closed and their cameras off. We're finding our way.
SIMON: What needs to get better over the next few weeks, do you think?
HEYDT: The immediate need for a lot of teachers is for some time to be able to remediate and reprocess with each other. We don't have time to do that right now...
HEYDT: ...Because we're all trying to keep our heads above water. At this point, our building hours are significantly restricted because of our custodial needs.
HEYDT: So, you know, school ends at 3 o'clock, and we're not allowed to be in the building after 4.
Long-term, I feel like - I'm currently teaching a course on positive psychology and happiness, so maybe I'm spending too much time being rosy about this. But long-term, I feel like maybe one of the side effects of this pandemic is that the world is getting to take a really close look at the reformation in education that needs to take place. So, you know, innovation and creativity is what makes the world go 'round, and it certainly has been sort of restricted in public education in the last few years. And I'm seeing an awakening of that. Allowing teachers to collaborate is when you're going to see the best come out.
SIMON: Susan Heydt is a teacher at Donegal High School in Mount Joy, Pa. Thanks so much for being with us.
HEYDT: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.