Our Early Learning Advisory Group Members Discuss the Challenges and Successes of Distance Learning
Early Edge California has continued to hold Early Learning Advisory Group meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic to learn about the current experiences of our Early Learning teachers and providers while offering them a space to support each other. Last week, we held two more virtual meetings for our members. Below we share some experiences from this group representing California’s diverse Early Learning community–from Headstart programs, California State Preschool Program (CSPP), and Transitional Kindergarten to Childcare centers and Family Childcare Homes (FCCs), located across the state.
Challenges for Teachers and Providers
Many of our members shared that the demands of distance learning can be “overwhelming.” Teachers and providers report attending as many as thirty Zoom calls per week which include check-ins with students, staff meetings, and trainings. “I had a very hard time because I am a very hands-on type of teacher and technology is not my strong suit,” said one teacher. Teachers and providers are also making lesson plans, recording lessons, and responding to families’ questions and needs for non-academic support. “I am having to help parents a lot with distance learning. I get calls and texts at 6am, 8pm, 9pm,” shared one provider.
Members have to submit far more paperwork than they previously were doing in order to document work done while distance learning; as one teacher shared, “Sometimes I am up til 1 or 2 am just getting caught up.” Between balancing their increased workloads with the needs of their own children and families, they are finding little downtime. “I have no me time,” said another teacher.
Advisory Group members who are still operating programs open to children of essential workers also reported ongoing challenges with obtaining adequate personal protective equipment and supplies. Many shared their frustration that childcare is not recognized as an essential industry. This means that some providers have not been permitted to shop in stores during designated hours for essential workers, forcing them to compete with the general public for cleaning supplies, food, and other essentials. “That makes following all those protocols a challenge,” said one provider.
Challenges for Families
Members shared that the families they support are equally overwhelmed with managing parents’ work responsibilities and distance learning for older siblings. Most teachers report doing regular one-on-one check-ins with parents and families in addition to group Zoom meetings; however, time is a challenge for families. One teacher reported that she offers Zoom classes only twice a week because parents cannot handle more class time at the preschool level. Families are facing other major barriers during this time, such as technological, financial, and space constraints. One teacher shared that, “We were providing tablets and chromebooks, but lots of families don’t have internet.” Another teacher shared that some families declined Chromebooks, hotspots or other devices because they were worried that they would be financially responsible if the item was broken or lost. Some young students are not engaging in distance learning because devices are being used by older siblings or adults in the household. One provider shared, “I have families where there are six people in a one bedroom.” Some providers are offering economic support to families who are lacking access to regular food and supplies.
Bright Spots during COVID-19
Members did note positive aspects of the shelter-in-place orders, including being able to connect with children one-on-one and being able to get parents more involved in their children’s education. Some members noted that children are adapting well to distance learning, and enjoy using technology like Youtube and the Whiteboard feature in Zoom to connect. Parents have also been responsive and supportive of distance learning and social distancing despite the challenges.
One teacher shared, “I have learned so much more about technology and how to connect with children than I ever thought I would. It feels like the classroom is the most normal thing children have right now in their life and I’ve noticed that it really benefits a child to have that emotional support and connection from their teacher.”
Teachers and providers are demonstrating an impressive ability to continue to serve children and families under these trying circumstances. However, they are worried about their own health and ability to financially manage the ongoing requirements of shelter-in-place and social distancing.
Programs indicated that proposed budget cuts would be devastating. “We need more support, not less,” stated one provider, citing the need for increased cleaning supplies and protective equipment, increased need for custodial staff, and smaller class sizes.
The prospect of reopening schools also brings up anxiety for teachers, as they wonder how it would be possible to manage social distancing in a classroom with 20 or 25 children and only one teacher. If reduced ratios remain, there is also concern about less children being served. “We need to serve more children, not fewer,” expressed one teacher. Other worries around reopening included creating hands-on experiences and activities that are safe and comply with health guidelines, as well as how to form bonds with new children next year with social distancing in place. As one teacher pointed out, “How do I comfort a crying child if I can’t hug them?”
Other needs that the group articulated included funding for technology and equipment for teachers as well as students; guidance on how to support children’s social-emotional needs in the next school year; and, training on how to support dual language learners, children with special needs, and children with trauma history during distance learning. Some teachers in the group also called for social-emotional support for teachers to manage the stress and trauma of the pandemic.
“We need teachers to help families, but who will help the teachers?” one teacher asked.
We want to express deep gratitude to our Advisory Group members for sharing about their journey in supporting California’s youngest learners. Early Edge California will continue to share what we learn from our members as we host additional meetings throughout this year. Learn more about our Early Learning Advisory Groups.