Are teachers ready for digital school? Anxiety looms as they hurry to prep online classes

Instead of walking into a physical school ready to start teaching on Tuesday, Poly High English instructor Sarah Schol and her thousands of colleagues will still be learning how to navigate their new digital classrooms on the first day of the semester.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Schol and her fellow Long Beach Unified teachers have been in intense training over the last week as part of a sprint to prepare them for the first day of classes, which have been forced online until at least Oct. 5. Even so, teachers say they won’t be entirely prepared for such a massive shift in how they do their jobs.

“We’re trying to compress a year-long training into five working days,” Schol said Friday. “It’s an impossible task and we have to remember that. A lot of our personal expectation is to finish the week mastering it and that’s not realistic.”

The sudden pivot to online learning has been a wholly new experience for the LBUSD workforce. They’re having to quickly adjust to a pandemic that destroyed the typical conception of back-to-school.

“Normally you walk into your physical classroom ready to start the year,” said Teachers Association of Long Beach Executive Director Chris Callopy. “This year, it’s like teachers have to learn how to build a classroom, build it, and design a new curriculum.”


School campuses, like the normally packed grounds of Poly High School, have been closed since March. Photo by Mike Guardabascio.

Over the last week, teachers have been spending nine hours a day training to use Canvas, the digital learning management system LBUSD classes will be taught through.

“There are varying degrees of anxiety about it,” said Callopy. “You have teachers who also teach junior college classes who are familiar with Canvas. Then there’s people who thought Canvas was something you painted on who’d never heard of it before.”

The training sessions have been fast-paced and packed. According to the LBUSD’s Virtual Learning Office, teachers logged into more than 19,000 sessions and viewed more than 500,000 pages in the first two days alone.

Schol, who co-chairs the English department at Poly, said there’s been a wide disparity in how comfortable teachers feel with the new technology.

“That’s the most frustrating part,” she said. “You have people who spent free time the last month watching videos, doing webinars, participating in online communities, and you have people who are figuring out how to log in. So you can have 45 minutes of a presentation where you’re trying to help two or three people get logged in. You’re taking teachers who have been so comfortable in the role and realm of ‘teacher’ and in the span of four days we have all become students together.”

Callopy said that what he’s hearing from the more than 3,000 teachers TALB represents are anxieties on two major fronts: learning Canvas and designing an online curriculum for the first time, and how classroom management will go in such a different environment.

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To help ease this transition, LBUSD has announced the first two weeks of class will be minimum days for students to make more time for teacher training.

Schol said that despite the challenges of the new year, she and her colleagues have an adventurous spirit about making it a special year, and are hopeful that the shared challenge among teachers and students will help to bring them closer together.

“Everything we’re experiencing this week, they’ll experience next week,” she said. “Their proficiency will vary as well, some of them will be more proficient than their teachers technologically, and some of them will struggle to log in.”

Schol said her bosses have reminded her to take care of her own mental health amid the upheaval—a message she hopes to pass along to students once she greets them on Sept. 1.

“It’s been a summer of educational and social and health unrest, and it’s fostered a very anxious mentality, at least within me,” she said. “I think it’s the same with a lot of my coworkers, and with a lot of our students. But we’re all going to get through it together and make the most of it.”

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