BLOG POST BY PTAC MEMBER LARRY CIARELLI
I am an educator in an urban environment in western Pennsylvania. I teach first grade ELA. This is my 25th year of teaching. I have experienced many challenging situations in my career. After teaching online and adjusting to the new normal of teaching due to the Coronavirus, I have a few topics that I would like to address or share.
I feel that all students in Pennsylvania that return to school in the fall are going to need basic foundational skill review from the prior grade more than when addressing the usual summer slide. These skills were possibly only provided for half of the year leading up to the closing of schools due to Coronavirus. My first graders had a solid foundation, participated in online learning, but clearly did not close the year as I would have liked. Some of my first graders were still cracking the reading code, and others were almost there. I am concerned that frustration levels will run high next year. I don’t want my students feeling that in their second-grade year.
Educators like myself will need time to individualize instruction based on their students while providing grade-level standards. There will be times where I will need to take a step back and address unfinished learning with my new students that were not addressed. Modifying and scaffolding will be needed to address unfinished learning the students need.
I have had multiple students in my classroom in the past that closed their learning gaps after using small group instruction with targeted skills based on assessments. I used centers throughout all my years of teaching. This allowed me to meet with fewer students daily.
Two important steps for me will be gathering data and holding discussions with teachers from the prior year to get an idea of where to start with my new students. I believe a growth model that adjusts for students’ specific contexts is best suited for next year, not a standardized evaluation, or a hard focus on rigorous prescribed curriculum models.
This will require creativity with time and a lot of flexibility. I do not feel a “business as usual” approach is going to be effective. Districts need to understand that teachers are professionals, know their students best, and have the tools to make remediation successful. In some of my years of teaching my opinions were highly valued, and other years I was told to follow directions.
We need to voice our opinions, recommendations, and be allowed to move forward with covering the unfinished learning in our own creative ways. There have been so many changes in education since I started in 1994. It seems as if there is less flexibility and fewer freedoms given to teachers in our nation as a whole.
I hope that districts across Pennsylvania understand educator concerns, and take in the valuable recommendations and feedback that teachers have. Because we must look to those who best understand the learning needs of our students, I ask that decision makers consider Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee’s Recommendations for the 2020-2021 School Year. I know in my heart that everyone is trying to do their best in decision making, but I feel the teacher’s voice is not being heard enough.
Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee