Among the most vocal against remote learning have been the early childhood teachers - and with good reason. It’s very difficult to reconcile what we know about early childhood, young children, and learning outside the walls of the classroom with lessons based online, meeting in a chatroom for lessons, and having to catch their attention with more “acting” than “teaching”.
Additionally, education boards on social media are filled with teachers who are trying to determine if their own child will even participate in Kindergarten, what that should and will look like next year, and how they absolutely will not participate if it doesn’t meet certain criteria. Teachers who are parents are very worried about the health, academics, and education of their own children, and on top of that, they are desperately concerned for their students.
There are so many questions and so few answers.
This week, we wanted to lean into those questions, look for answers specific to early childhood that are being discussed, and try to add the voices we are hearing to the arena of professional opinions about what the future of education, both near and far, will and should look like.
In this article, we’ll focus on summarizing the biggest trends in questions we are seeing. We wanted to summarize concerns so teachers will have something to pass along to administrators and district officials that outlines some of the complications we as early childhood educators have thought of as we face difficult decisions in an uncertain future.
While one of the best ways to offend an early childhood teacher is to point out that families look to their classes as not only academic but also as “free childcare”, we are all painfully aware that one of the biggest obstacles in reopening any economy can, in fact, be boiled down to that one thing. Without the practical aspect of childcare, parents cannot work - including parents who teach.
Many educators who are discussing the future are concerned about students who are not showing up to classes, and whose parents have not been available to discuss the lack of participation.
The child care portion is a vital piece for those parents of young children who are essential workers, who work several jobs, and who may also be unable to bear the financial burden of caring for children outside the school setting.
There’s also the emotional toll on parents of young children and those who are mentally or physically challenged. Parents who are working from home may be struggling to do so and also maintain adequate care for children. Whereas public school has been able to offer support and even a sort of respite care in the past, remote learning has necessarily put these supports on hold, making these students more vulnerable than ever before.
Many young students went “missing” immediately when schooling switched from in-person to online. Many teachers are desperately worried about those students, wonder if students will even come if there is remote learning next year, and fear for the safety of students who are most vulnerable and spending all their time in what could potentially be harmful situations with no way to contact anyone outside the home.
After years of preaching to the huddled masses about how young children should have little to no screen time each day, the thought of asking children to meet online for classes really bothers many teachers.
In fact, some teachers with young children of their own cite the issue as a deal-breaker as they try to decide whether or not their own newly-school-aged children should even attend school in the fall. It wouldn’t be surprising if many other families are thinking the same way.
Others don’t necessarily mind screen time as long as it is educational and not too time-consuming or overly emphasized, but in discussing the issue as educators, they aren’t really sure how to go about creating lessons that meet those needs.
They are also really uncomfortable with the fact that they can’t be there to physically teach many of their students, and they hate asking parents to be the “teacher”, or “assistant teacher”. They’d like to make it as easy as possible for children to get what they need academically without overburdening families. Communicating with students one has never met, and who cannot read or write, is a huge challenge that is unique to Kindergarten and early childhood.
Building and district administrators are often just as baffled or possibly even more so since many have less experience in early childhood education than the teachers they oversee.
There are also teachers who absolutely despise the very idea of young children using devices to connect to class, but not because of any worries about screen time. Teachers hate the sound of their own voices, or seeing themselves on screen, or just think there’s no way to get children to interact with them.
Proper “Introduction to School”
The worry for some is that those entering Kindergarten from home rather than a building won’t get properly “trained” to learn at school somehow. They fear students will be disconnected, and that unless parents sit and participate in online classes all year, students just won’t be able to participate on their own.
Although this worry seems less important than many, it is a valid and persistent concern that could affect students and teachers for years to come. Imagine a third-grader who doesn’t understand that they can’t just get up and walk to the cafeteria for a snack whenever they are hungry, or a fifth-grader who doesn’t know that talking the whole time the teacher is talking is incredibly rude and unacceptable because they’ve always had a mute button to depend on.
A large part of pre-k and kindergarten is just learning how to learn in a classroom environment and a school building, and without that, teachers of other grade levels will eventually have to take over that responsibility on top of all the others they will be dealing with.
“Everything We Know about Teaching Early Childhood”
Another concern paramount for teachers is that early childhood education relies on so many things that will be absent in any context of education in the near future. Early childhood is about sharing, making friends, cooperating, and learning how to spend time with other kids their own age.
Teachers have a difficult time seeing how Kindergarten would still be the same with 6 feet of mandatory space between each person. How can you comfort a crying child without a hug? How can you help them learn to write without hand-over-hand instruction? Every single thing we know about how young children learn is either completely abolished with any of the available options, or made so complicated that it would be very difficult to continue using it.
It doesn’t just look difficult, it’s removing early childhood from its necessary foundations, and leaving it in a crumbling mess.
These educators will figure out how to make something work because they always do, but administrators and the public need to understand that they are stuck between a rock and a hard place with no good alternatives. We’re trying to decide between the health and safety of students versus building an academic foundation.
There will be no winners.
“What does that even look like?”
As we wrap up crisis schooling and attempt to set up something more structured that will meet all the needs we are facing, Kindergarten and other early childhood teachers are facing what feels like impossible situations. This is by no means a complete list of the specific challenges teachers of young students will face, either. These are just some of the most frequently discussed right now.
Administrators must be cognizant that small children require different rules and structures than older students do.
Teachers need to be open to entertaining the notion of putting best practices aside for the sake of health and safety in favor of students getting something rather than nothing.
Parents and teachers have to understand that any education their young children receive right now will be a group effort, and look very different from anything done in recent years.
The truth is that there will not be any great answers.
At this point, we may have to settle for the best of the worst options.
But children are resilient - we know this to be true. We will all get through this, and chances are fairly good that we’ll end up doing a lot better than anyone thinks we will.
Early childhood teachers are some of the most creative people. We will always find a way to do the very best we can for our kids.