‘It’s really hard’: Spokane teachers adjust to life outside the classroom

SPOKANE, Wash. — The spread of COVID-19 has created a new normal for all of us, but especially for kids, parents and teachers adjusting to life without school.

“It’s hard — it’s really hard to go from hands-on to kind of hands-off,” says special education teacher Roni Gross, who teaches a class of ten students, from kindergarten to fourth grade, at Logan Elementary.

Gross says the goal for this break is to avoid what teachers call a ‘summer slide,’ so she and other educators across the district are focusing on what students have already learned this year. She tells 4 News Now she will not be introducing any new curriculum, since students and parents are already adapting to enough change as is.

“Routine and structure and relationship is very important to them and so we’re just trying as a group to maintain that connection,” she says. “I think once we build structure and routine, I’m gonna be able to implement more online learning platforms, but right now, but right now we are just simply doing math and having fun.”

Gross is encouraging her students to use Prodigy, a free online math program, which allows kids to create their own wizard and cast spells by solving math problems. She says she and her students have solved 2,098 problems since the statewide school closure.

“We’ve always used it at school so I didn’t have to teach a brand new platform in order to connect with them,” she says. “I can go to the teacher platform so I can see what skills they’re working on, I can investigate any errors they’re making, I can assign assessments.”

But because Gross cannot see her students, there is no surefire way to know just how they are doing.

“At this point, when a student logs off, I know, ‘okay, they’re done or they’ve walked away to do this or that,’ or is because the work felt too hard? They got frustrated and didn’t have the help they needed?,'” she says. “It’s that piece of, just that unknown. I’m just not certain… There are kids on my radar that I’m worried about.”

Gross says Prodigy is just one of the platforms she and her students are utilizing. There are plenty of resources out there for kids — it is just a matter of making sure students are able to access them.

“While we’re checking on their academic progress through online platforms, we’re also making sure they’ve got what they need in order to be included,” she says. “Because there’s nothing worse than knowing your friends are off playing a cool game on a computer but you don’t have your own device in order to access it.”

Parents are free to check out laptops from the district and access free WiFi in school parking lots, but Gross says she and other teachers at Logan Elementary are hoping they will eventually be able to make home deliveries for the families who cannot come to pick up their laptop in person.

Gross says she has not laid out specific lesson plans for parents, but is checking in with them regularly to answer questions.

“I could send out an email right now, with ‘this is the expectation.’ I also don’t want to stress out already stressed out families,” she says. “It’s a variety of basically text messages and emails and phone calls… If I am able to touch base with them and talk with them, great, but I also don’t want to smother them and stress them out.”

“If we can make sure that skill isn’t lost… Then — then, then I can help myself feel a little bit better about this situation,” she adds. “Teachers are available. I don’t know one teacher who’s sitting at home thinking ‘well, I’m on a break.’ That doesn’t exist. Nobody is on a break.”