NEW BRITAIN – The pandemic has spotlighted many education inequities and educators from across the state hopes to continue to meet student needs and create systematic change in the future.
“We have to start thinking about the whole student,” said Dr. Jason Irizarry, dean of the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut. “Having a more holistic understanding of our students and their communities is central to reaching all students.”
During a panel session at the first annual Educators Rising Connecticut State Conference Wednesday, longtime educators came together to discuss how today’s teachers can meet the needs of all students, what needs to change after the pandemic, and the importance for teacher diversity in teacher prep programs.
One thing the pandemic has laid bare is many communities are more vulnerable in ways that are now more visible to schoolteachers, such as the digital divide, Irizarry said. “It’s imperative that we look at the students that are in front of us in their totality, with the communities that they’re in and their families, and try to be responsive to that – which I think is a hallmark of a good teacher.”
In terms of teaching practices, the panelists agreed the issues that are most persistent in education have existed long before the pandemic.
What covid-19 has done is to expose the crippling inequities, said Megan Geary, CT Teacher of the Year 2020. “Teachers have been on the frontlines trying to figure out how to address them and in actual practices, there are many lessons to be learned from the different types of technology and that allowed teachers to learn so many new skills.”
The new learning also includes recognizing that while not every student enjoys learning through technology, there are those who thrived in a remote learning environment.
“What teachers need to be allowed to do is the time to reflect and collaborate with other teachers on what has been the best practices for students and what individualized instructions can be created in the best way possible,” Geary said.
When students return to school full time, Sal Escobales, president of the American Federation of Teachers and a teacher in New Britain, said there will need to be a balance between having good academic productivity while addressing social and emotional learning.
He also hopes to move beyond placing a heavy importance on grades, which causes high anxiety among students, and explore different ways of defining achievements and successes.
“That’s a good conversation that I hope will happen more,” said Escobales, who is also concerned about the mental fortitude of younger students being back in a classroom and reintroducing them to socialization while being instructed. “The re-integration needs to be done in a healthy way, for both the younger and older students. As we move forward, these are things we need to keep in mind for many years. Kids are resilient but they’re not going to snap back within a year. It may be scary to think about, but it’s also exciting because maybe now we can make the changes that we know has to change.”
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