Joyce Suslovic says that she is always innovating and that she is thinking of new and inclusive ways of teaching – even in her 41st year in a classroom in central New York.
That’s why she took it personally this week when Governor Andrew Cuomo suggested that distance learning could become a permanent part of the lives of New York students after the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was like a punch when he was talking about online learning,” said Suslovic, who teaches US history at Henninger High School in Syracuse.
She asked why Cuomo would call teachers, classrooms and school buildings an “old model” that needs to be redesigned with cutting edge technology.
“If we can reopen business, we can open schools again,” said Suslovic of post-pandemic life in New York State. “We can reinvent a lot. But I was hoping that we would reinvent many things that would be more welcoming and more welcoming to students. “
Suslovic is one of hundreds of New York teachers, parents, students and education experts who went on social media this week to share their outrage at Cuomo’s comments on Tuesday at his press conference. daily on the pandemic.
“Everyone’s old model goes and sits in a classroom and the teacher is in front of this class and teaches this class, and you do it all over the city, all over the state, all these buildings , all these physical classrooms, “says Cuomo. “Why? With all the technology you have?”
Cuomo announced that the state will partner with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a technology-focused plan for post-pandemic education in New York, where schools have been closed since March to slow the spread of the virus. .
Cuomo said the initiative will explore how to use distance learning more widely in the future. He did not rule out the reopening of schools in the fall.
Now, 72 hours later, Cuomo’s office and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have provided few details on what the governor wants to accomplish.
The state education department declined to comment on Cuomo’s proposal and referred the journalists to the governor’s office. Cuomo’s office would not provide any further details on the initiative.
The Gates Foundation denied a request from syracuse.com | The Post-Standard for an interview. Instead, the foundation released a two-sentence statement.
“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is committed to working with New York State in its efforts to ensure equitable access to education for its students in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the statement. “We will provide further details as soon as they are available.”
Some of Cuomo’s friends and enemies seemed stunned by his suggestion that the schools in person might be out of date.
“I can’t believe I should even say that, but our children belong to the school,” said MP Brian Kolb, R-Victor, on Thursday.
“They should make friends,” said Kolb. “They should work together to solve the problems. They should play sports together, make music together, and learn life skills together. To suggest otherwise is completely disconnected. “
After being rebuffed by teachers, parents and education experts, Cuomo’s chief assistant appeared to pick up on the governor’s comments.
“Teachers are heroes and nothing could ever replace in-person learning – COVID has reinforced this,” Cuomo helps. Melissa DeRosa wrote on Twitter.
“The Education Reimagination Task Force focuses on the most effective use of technology when schools are closed and to provide more opportunities for students, wherever they are,” wrote DeRosa. , without further details.
The absence of a clear message from the governor’s office concerns Najah Zaaeed, a mother of six from Syracuse who has three school-aged children aged 7 to 11.
Zaaeed, who teaches at SUNY Oswego, said Cuomo should have been more careful and precise when he spoke of the possibility of a broader commitment to using technology outside the classroom.
“This is a very sensitive time for people across the country, and even more so for the people of New York,” said Zaaeed. “Everything is immediately taken into account, and sometimes it can be very emotional. We need to improve our school systems, but this method may not be the right approach. “
The DeRosa tweet also did little to reassure teachers like Suslovic, who has built a reputation for innovation while teaching generations of Syracuse students, including two who are now on the Syracuse joint council.
Suslovic broke the traditional class model years ago. She sits with the students in a circle and engages them in conversation. She encourages students from far away countries to take turns bringing their favorite homemade dishes to their lunch club. She takes the opportunity to teach citizenship and community.
“There’s nothing like having one-on-one conversations with students and social interaction with people,” said Suslovic. “There’s nothing like engaging a student in a conversation and saying,” What do you think? “In the context of education. I have a lot of students who are new Americans, which is fascinating.”
Suslovic said she continued to hire students online during the pandemic. But some low-income students face barriers to distance learning, such as access to reliable home Internet connections.
To help her students keep up, Suslovic goes to the students’ homes and leaves the coursework to those who don’t have access to what she publishes online.
For students who help take care of their younger siblings or who have other distractions at home, Suslovic allows them to call responses to class assignments by phone at night.
It is precisely this type of interaction that can never be replaced by distance learning, said Phil Cleary, who teaches special preschool education in the central school district of North Syracuse.
“Technology is a great tool,” said Cleary, a 28-year-old teacher and vice-president of the district teachers’ union. “We are open to new things. But that cannot replace in-person experience with teachers.”
Cleary taught online and posted educational videos for students on his YouTube channel during the coronavirus pandemic. But he said that building and maintaining relationships with the students he develops in person is not enough.
“No amount of technology can replace a child who gives me a high five, gives me a hug when things are going well, or reassures me when I help wipe a tear,” said Cleary.
Before the pandemic, schools and educators across the country had raised awareness of the need for schools to help children develop their social and emotional skills, he said.
“Children who feel good about themselves are more likely to be successful in their studies,” said Cleary. “These ties are best established in person with teachers and student groups. Right now, the mental health of students is of great concern to us. Schools are not just a place for children to sit in front of the teachers. “
Lindsey Lawson, a senior at Cazenovia High School, said she learned a long time ago that schools are more than teachers and classrooms.
The governor’s focus on distance learning “would remove the basics of learning,” said Lawson.
“At Cazenovia High School, I learned not only in class, but also every second of the in-between,” said Lawson. “The debate, the discussion, the classroom setting and the unity found in human relationships will be lost. Without forgetting that sports and extracurricular programs would be postponed. “
Lawson, an all-CNY basketball and volleyball player, will be visiting Harvard University this fall.
Samantha Pierce, a mother of five from Syracuse with two special needs children in city schools, said she was concerned about what would happen to her children if Cuomo went ahead with a permanent plan distance learning.
“I know we are in a transition period right now and we need to rethink how we do a lot of things,” said Pierce. “And when these things happen, people on the margins tend to be left out of the conversation. It’s a big concern for me. Often the voices of parents or special education students are not adequately represented. “
Pierce, president of the Syracuse chapter of parents for public schools, said the governor and his education task force should include parents like her in any education reform plan in the state.
She also fears that the social and emotional needs of students after the pandemic will be lost in any push to expand distance learning.
“It was a conversation we had before the pandemic and it is an even more important conversation to have now,” said Pierce.
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