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COVID–19 Teacher Diary: Equity & Access for All Students

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Welcome to the third post in the 49th Teachers COVID–19 Teacher Diary, a new blog series that takes a look at how teachers are coping with the pandemic. What does daily life look like for teachers right now? What’s working in the new world of online classrooms, and what’s not? What can parents do at home with their kids? How can educators, parents, and students all cope with overwhelm, communicate more effectively, and support one another?

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Thank you for reading. If you’re an Ontario educator and would like to contribute to this series, please send us an email.

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Written by Peel District School Board Teacher-Librarian Jonelle St. Aubyn

When the news came in that school would be closed for an additional two weeks after the March Break, I was a little stunned but not terribly concerned. Not because I wasn’t taking the outbreak of COVID–19 seriously, but because I had hope that it would be under control soon and that we would all be returning to work after this extended break. The next morning at school, I announced to my students that there would be no limit on the number of books that they could take out and that no fines would be accrued over the time that they were off. At my school, with the support of our administration and following the lead of our local public library, we are moving away from charging our students fines for overdue material. We don’t want to deter students from using the library because they owe a small amount of money and we rarely don’t get our books back. Our students were excited and checkouts for books were non-stop throughout the school day. Nothing makes a teacher-librarian happier than students checking out lots of books!

Given that students had assignments and projects that they needed to finish over the break, we also let our students check out Chromebooks, iPads, green screens, headphones, microphones, and tripods to help them be creative and get their work done at home. We were cleared out of just about everything within 15 minutes of the bell ringing after school! As we were tidying up for the day a student asked me if I was happy about the extended break. I said that I wasn’t. I love being a teacher-librarian. Although I was looking forward to a beach vacation in the Dominican Republic (which I ended up cancelling), I was also looking forward to all of the events that were scheduled in the library after the break. We were fully booked and ready to go! But as I headed out the door, I never anticipated that the three week break might become indefinite.

The first week of the break was relatively fine and things were somewhat normal. I tried not to worry too much and focused on being active daily, reading, and preparing for my return to work. However, once the government announced that schools would not be opening on April 5th, I became very concerned. For every research assignment conducted in the library, we provide flipped classroom resources that students can access online that include videos, links, and tools to help guide them through the research process and help them effectively use technology for presentations. Also, our students have access to Sora, a platform that allows our students to read e-books and listen to audiobooks from our collection from any phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop. It’s a great resource that our students are fortunate enough to have access to. However, I am also aware that not every student has access to wifi, nor does every student have a device at home solely for their personal use.

In this day and age of widespread use of technology, it’s easy to forget that there are real issues when it comes to the equitable access to devices and wifi for students to be able to participate in any form of online learning. Even though we readily loan out devices to our students, there are not nearly enough to meet the needs of all students. The expectation that students will go to a coffee shop or public library is not always realistic given their responsibilities at home. It’s also something that they may not be able to do for quite some time given the COVID-19 outbreak. As our time out of school continues, I want my students to continue to be able to learn, but it must be equitable and take into account the challenges that they face.

I’ve also been worried about the physical and mental well being of my students. I know personally, with each day of uncertainty about what impact COVID-19 will continue to have in our country and around the world, I feel stressed and anxious. I miss my job. I miss my colleagues and friends. How must my students be feeling? For many of them, school is where they socialize and meet their friends, get a hot meal in the morning, train with their teammates, and enjoy a variety of clubs and activities. All that is on hold for them and we don’t know for how long. This is the last year for our senior students, many of them looking forward to their prom with excitement and anticipation. Walking across the stage at graduation. Sharing fun times together before heading off to their post-secondary lives. They are now going to lose that and I grieve that loss for them. It may not seem like a big deal for some but it is for students. Their world as they knew it has been greatly impacted and no one knows as yet when, or if, it will return to “normal.”

It’s been a very challenging time. I want to get back to work and help my students as best I can. I’m prepared to do whatever needs to be done to try to provide the best possible opportunities for learning that I can. I’m still here for staff to collaborate with and brainstorm ideas on what will work best in the situation that we are in. And I’m doing my best to take care of my own physical and mental well being so that I can be ready to get back to work. I’m not sure what it’s going to look like, but flexibility, patience, and understanding are going to be critical as we move ahead.

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Jonelle St. Aubyn started her teaching career with the Peel District School Board as a Health and Physical Education and Family Studies teacher at T.L. Kennedy Secondary School in 2002. She opened Louise Arbour Secondary School as the Head of Physical Education and transitioned to the Library Learning Commons in 2015. Since then, she has been the full-time teacher-librarian at Louise Arbour.

>> See all COVID–19 Crisis Teacher Diary posts

April 9, 2020
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