You’ve seen them: the wave of blog posts, tweets, and memes exalting teachers for the work they do. The promises to never complain about helping with homework. The incredibly successful teacher appreciation campaigns, organized by moms and dads who, to varying degrees, were forced to step into the role of educator as they complied with stay-at-home orders and adapted to their school’s distance learning plan. And maybe you are starting to think about what the next school year will look like (or how much longer you have to do this). BASIS Charter Schools are open enrollment, tuition free public schools and welcome BASIS Austin Primary, set to open to grades K-4 in fall 2020.
As BASIS Charter Schools launched distance learning in March, we regularly talked about how to ensure that parents wouldn’t have to become full-time instructors and could serve as ‘teaching fellows’ instead–nudging students along or showing support where and when needed. Indeed, our plan was to make the online materials we distribute as self-guided as possible to allow for parents to continue doing what they need to do!
It’s no wonder that teaching dominates most parent social media feeds: great teaching—the kind that comes from educators who view every day as an opportunity to challenge students to absorb knowledge and skills that will serve as the foundation for the learning they will do all their lives—is exhausting work. It was this sort of passion—the “I’ll do whatever it takes to makes sure my kids really learn”—that pushed a couple from Tucson, Arizona, to found the first BASIS Charter School more than twenty years ago, and “teach as though it’s a classroom full of your own children” continues to be the standard to which we challenge all our teachers to rise. This level of care, in combination with the subject expertise we require of our teachers, is what drives a 3rd grade engineering instructor to teach her students the basic physics of parachute shapes and to require that they follow a strict design process before the unit culminates in the highly anticipated Egg Drop Engineering Challenge. It’s knowing the immense value of public speaking skills that drives the drama teacher to create the perfect improv activity to engage even the shiest of 2nd graders, as he leads them towards feeling comfortable speaking in front of others.
So yes, it’s true that teachers work hard, and it’s no surprise that parents in the middle of this pandemic have developed an even greater appreciation for teachers. As parents who have taken on the responsibility of educating your children full-time or close to it, you’ve also probably stumbled on to what makes it all worthwhile. Sitting across from your child as they fumble with the pencil in their hand, everyone’s over it, everyone’s on the verge of tears, and then… “Mommy look! I did it. A lowercase e—just like you showed me!”
First, it’s the lowercase e, and then they’re writing a sentence and balancing equations and solving for x. Being there for a few of these experiences is all it takes to realize the other part of the “teaching is hard” equation: teaching is magic. A teacher knows the look you get when something clicks, when the student learns, when they enter the world of “I learned something important today,” and there is nothing like it. And so, while it’s true that the teachers at BASIS Charter Schools are hardworking superstars who deserve every bit of recognition that they’re receiving these days, there’s another element of this reality: we miss our students. We miss the teaching and the learning, the “quiet coyote” and the “1-2-3 eyes on me.” We cannot wait to return to school.
What the school year will look like in the aftermath of COVID-19 is the subject of much speculation by educators, health officials, and parents. Just how BASIS Charter Schools will open will depend on local conditions, expert guidance, federal, state, and local requirements, and how the summer unfolds in our communities. Too much is still unknown to make a definite statement about what school will look like in August, but our school leaders and educators are preparing for a variety of possibilities, including:
- the return to fully in-person instruction (our best-case scenario);
- a blended online/in-person approach to ensure safety and potential social
distancing requirements (an A/B, alternating schedule; our most likely scenario); and
- fully online instruction until it is safe to reopen our physical school buildings.
Independently of how we have to start the coming school year, we will make sure that we are prepared to deliver. Our teachers learned how to use our remote instruction systems essentially overnight in March, so this summer we plan to provide additional training, purchase specialized equipment if appropriate (cameras, microphones, or document cameras), and incorporate supplemental systems to support full live instruction should we need it. The BASIS Charter School network received overwhelmingly positive feedback that, independent of the mode of instruction in August, teachers would like to preserve access to resources created and distributed through our online platform. We therefore also plan to deliver on that request – and give teachers summer access to the systems in order to allow them to organize their content. Finally, we are also aware that our preparation strategies must keep in mind the work schedules of our students’ parents, and make sure that most of the online instruction is able to be carried out with minimal adult supervision next year.
How we’ll catch up
Once we are back to in-person instruction, we know it will take hard work to ensure that our students are making adequate progress in our curriculum. But we are not strangers to this kind of hard work. We understand that switching schools in such an uncertain time is scary and our curriculum can be challenging, but we have a decided advantage in the dedication of our teachers and in our more than two decades of experience getting students ready for success at a BASIS Charter School. Everyone is concerned about gaps in student learning at this time, and we recognize that even the best forms of online instruction are going to lag behind the effectiveness of lessons in our physical classrooms. To understand just how well our students retained material from online instruction and over the summer, we will deploy diagnostic tests once we are back to in-person instruction. We already have many of these diagnostic tools developed and in use thanks to our experience opening new schools. Based on the results of these diagnostics, our teachers may re-teach content or focus on closing individual gaps with both our new and our returning students. Our primary model is well suited to support this effort since our two-teacher model in grades K-3 is built for instructional differentiation. We know that every child learns differently (even without missing months in the classroom), and so every BASIS Charter School primary classroom is staffed with both a Learning Expert Teacher (LET) and a Subject Expert Teacher (SET), so that instruction can be adapted to individual students. Retention after online delivery is no different. Our students will have a team of SETs and a dedicated LET to provide individual feedback and instruction as needed. Our LETs will lead the charge in providing small group or individual interventions, and our administrative staff, such as our deans and directors, will assist with social-emotional support.
We eagerly anticipate the day that our students are back in our school buildings. We cannot wait for the day that students are again filling our hallways and classrooms with laughter and learning, and we look forward to meeting our new students at BASIS Austin Primary and BASIS San Antonio Primary Northeast this coming school year. As we utilize the summer to further train our teachers, prepare our buildings, and update our curriculum so we can hit the ground running, we are fueled by cautious optimism, but we will be ready for all eventualities. We cannot wait to teach your students and we will make sure that we are in the best position to do so, no matter the circumstances.