Under NMTeach, the state’s previous teacher evaluation system often described as one of the “toughest evaluation systems” in the country, I was rated an “Exemplary” teacher.
Third grade students in my class often made between 11/2 to two years of learning growth in math after a year. I also have a master’s degree in education administration. As a parent of three children, in elementary, middle and high school, I assumed I had all the credentials to support my children during distance learning. I was wrong.
My family checks the boxes for many of the essential items needed to actively participate in a virtual learning environment. Each child has access to a technology device and I have upgraded our internet connection to include two separate modems. My husband and I are both employed, and I am able to work from home. Despite having these basic requirements to connect my children with their teachers and the virtual classes, it is not enough.
After much effort and support from her kindergarten teacher last year, Mila, our youngest daughter, ended her first year in elementary school making academic gains we were all so proud of. These gains came after months of interventions. This confident girl who looked forward to being in school each day is now forced to pay attention for long hours to a small screen. The academic growth we were so proud of has started to slip away. Mila needs the assistance of an adult throughout her learning day to help with the various components of technology, remind her of breaks/start times and assist with her various assignments. I cannot do this each day in a way that my daughter needs, and because of this, as a parent I feel like a failure.
Our other two children’s stories are similar. Each has their own strengths and various challenges with distance learning. No matter their individual needs, I cannot do everything they need at all times. I cannot give them the time, energy, attention and support they are used to during a normal school day. I have long fought for a quality education for students in my classroom and across the state. I now find myself failing my own children in that mission.
There are many families across our state for whom the distance-learning experience has been even more challenging. What about the countless families that do not have access to a technology device or quality internet? How are students learning new content through a packet? What if there is no adult home during the school day to offer support?
I call upon our state leaders to ensure families across the state have access to quality resources, additional support for struggling students and flexibility for families who want choice beyond distance learning. Students need technology devices and access to quality internet to connect them with their instructors and work. Without this, their only hope is putting all the responsibility on parents to teach them the learning standards through paper packets. We need to find a way to differentiate instruction and support for students who need more than virtual instruction.
Some students are thriving in the online environment. They should continue to be given the option to participate in ways that meet their needs. However, we must also consider more options for families who need support beyond distance learning. The current options for some type of in-person support are limited to a small number of children or require that specific indicators be met in order for them to qualify for these in-person opportunities. This needs to change.
Inequities in education are more apparent now than ever before. We must use our new understanding to work with a sense of urgency and respond to the needs of our families and ensure our children do not lose opportunities during this pandemic. Mila and so many other children depend on it.
Hope Morales is Teach Plus New Mexico executive director.