With her school closed temporarily in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19, Melanie Malcomson has come up with a new way to reach out to her students. Ms. Malcolmson, who teaches Grade 4 in Mississauga, Ont., has begun reading stories to her class from her kitchen. She posts recordings of the sessions on Google Classroom, but is mindful of not stepping out of line with guidance from her school board, which says not to deliver formal instruction for now.
“I miss them so much, and to have that interaction, even though it’s virtual, it’s been great,” Ms. Malcomson says. “It brings a little bit of normalcy to what is going on right now.”
As provincial governments and school boards grapple with how to finish off the academic year, many are telling teachers to hold off on contacting students until they have a learning plan in place. But some teachers say that following that direction hasn’t been easy.
The situation is evolving, and in some parts of the country, schools are only now reaching out to families to see if they have technology and Internet access so that students can continue learning at home.
“We’re going to do everything we can to meet students where they are,” said Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association. “What exactly it’s going to look like we don’t know.”
In the meantime, some educators have taken initial steps to connect with their social-distancing students. They are calling to check in with their students and their families. While they are not providing formal instruction, many are offering ways to spend the day learning.
At the end of her video recording, Ms. Malcomson will ask her students their favourite part of the story and they’ll send her comments. She has also given her students a Lego challenge and asked them to send videos of a joke to share with the class. She said that 22 of her 27 students have logged in, and she’s mindful of inequities in the public education system when it comes to technology.
Alan Blaha, a teacher in Montreal, said families have been grateful for the optional work he has e-mailed this past week. Mr. Blaha teaches English at a French school board.
“I want to be helpful where I can,” he said. “It allows me to stay connected with my kids.”
In Ontario, the high-school teachers’ union sent a note to its members Thursday saying a working group is developing a province-wide learning plan, and asked that educators “be mindful not to implement anything that could run contrary to direction from their school board or forthcoming from our work with the Ministry.”
Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union, said the government in his province is working with educators to develop a learning plan. In the meantime, he advised members to reach out.
“For now, they are to try and connect with students to find out how they are doing,” Mr. Wozney said.
Allison Garber, a mother of two in Bedford, N.S., said that connection has made a difference for her 10-year-old autistic son. She said that some teachers in her community have been sending reading and math resources to help families while they are indoors.
This week, Ms. Garber’s son connected with his teacher on Facetime. Ms. Garber said his face lit up when he saw her, and he repeatedly told his teacher how much he missed her and loved her.
“It meant the world, and at bedtime, as I was lying with him, he said, ‘Isn’t she the greatest?'” Ms. Garber said. “It’s one kid but it made a huge difference.”
Earlier this week, before receiving an e-mail from her school principal to hold off on calls to families, Kimberly Rastin, an elementary school teacher in London, Ont., spent Monday and Tuesday on the phone with her students.
She talked to them about the book report she had assigned before March break, but for Ms. Rastin, it was a chance to check in on them. She teaches two classes of Grades 7 and 8, and made about 40 phone calls over those two days.
Ms. Rastin said many were surprised to hear from their teacher. (On Friday, she received instructions from her principal to call the families next week to inquire about their access to technology. She will make another round of calls.)
“I was just hoping that the underlying message they were getting from the call was somebody cares about you, you are missed, you are valued, and the teacher you spend all that time with does still want to spend that time with you,” Ms. Rastin said.