Overwhelmed Teachers And Overcrowded Virtual Classes: Some Parents Say Remote Learning Is Failing Their Kids

The deal between the DOE and the teachers’ union that averted a strike and allowed public schools to reopen during the pandemic has resulted in stark learning inequities for some students, with parents of remote learners saying there are too few teachers and far too many students.

The agreement between school labor unions and DOE mandated that remote teachers only teach remote-only learners, to prevent teachers from having to juggle both in-person and remote learners simultaneously. But with just 16,000 teachers assigned to fully remote teaching, representing 23% of all teachers, and more students opting for remote learning, the teacher-to-student ratio is strained. (According to the DOE’s latest tally, 48% of students are now opting for remote-based learning only, up from 46% last week.)

The United Federation of Teachers and other school unions have been calling on the city to bring in 10,000 more teachers to serve as reinforcements for the school system to comply with the agreement. The city has so far hired 4,500 additional teachers, and neither the Mayor’s office or DOE have disclosed how many more teachers they’ll have by Tuesday morning, when students return to in-person instruction at K-5 and K-8 schools.

“Everything is going to be deficient this year, no matter what,” Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters, an education advocacy group, told Gothamist. “Being able to go to school, only one to three days a week is going to be deficient. The online classes, whether they’re for blended learning or for full time remote learning are going to be deficient. And everything is going to have to be figured out as to try to minimize the inadequacy of the learning method.”

Brooklyn parent Wendy Atterberry worries her two young children are being shortchanged by the remote learning program. Her kids are among the 480,000 signed up for remote learning this year; she thought they would be safer at home than attending P.S. 9 in Prospect Heights amidst the ongoing pandemic.

But in the space of a week, she said she noticed her fourth grade son’s teacher wasn’t giving the kind of attention her son needed. For remote-only fourth grade students, Atterberry found only one teacher assigned to teach 54 kids, which include her son. For her daughter’s kindergarten class, there’s one remote teacher to teach 49 students in that entire grade. (Another parent with students enrolled in remote learning at P.S. 9 reported similar frustrations but declined to speak on the record.)

Atterberry did appreciate that her son’s teacher has split her time between all the students, teaching somewhere around 18 kids per class. But the drawback is that he only receives one hour of live instruction, disrupting the kind of relationship-building that begins during the start of the school year.

“Our fourth graders are getting one hour of live instruction. And then for the rest of the day, he’s on his own,” said Atterberry. “And it’s my job to help him so I’ve had to put my own career on hold to be his teacher, because his teacher has 53 other students.”

Atterberry notes that even the teacher is aware of the inadequate attention her son’s receiving. These days, that attention is watered down.

“My son had to write an essay today, he had two math assignments — and then the teacher can’t give feedback on a writing assignment. All she can say is, ‘I got it.’ That’s it, like, ‘I received your assignment,'” said Atterberry. “And she even said to the kids, ‘I’m not going to have time to give you notes or give you feedback, because I have 53 other students, all I can tell you is that I’m reading what you’re writing.'”

“It makes me feel like my kids are being cheated,” Atterberry added. “Like I’m being cheated, like their needs are being dismissed, like their education doesn’t matter. Like they are pawns and what I think is kind of a political game that de Blasio and the Chancellor are playing.”

The setup is markedly different inside P.S. 9, where the rest of the fourth grade teachers opting for the blended learning model are seeing a maximum of 16 students in the classroom. However, because of the staff shortage at the school, those hybrid learners are on their own during their days at home, when they receive no live instruction.

Oversized remote classes are not isolated to P.S. 9. In Manhattan, more than 100 7th grade students at Mott Hall I in the Upper West Side currently log on for one group class, led by one general education teacher and one special-ed teacher. Even students who go into school for instruction participate in the remote classes, streamed online.

“With more than 100 students competing, my concern is that the high achievers can fly through the work and get a break, where a child who is struggling can’t get help,” Jen Roesch, the mother of a 7th grade student, told the NY Post.

One NYC teacher who spoke anonymously because she didn’t want the DOE to see her comments said the requirements for remote-only teachers, who were granted medical waivers to work from home, incentivized teachers to try to work from home.

“Teachers are also only required by our union to teach two hours live remotely. My in-person learners get live teaching for the entire school day. Special education students are allowed to come everyday if the spacing allows. Even two or three days of all day live teaching is better than synchronous remote learning for just two hours a day, five days per week,” said the teacher. “There is a push for remote learning by some lazy teachers because they get to save money on gas and tolls and work in their pajamas. Spare me the safety concerns. I know teachers who took trips out of town while remote teaching.”

On the Brian Lehrer Show on Friday, a testy Mayor Bill de Blasio sidestepped the question over whether the city has found the remaining number of teachers needed to meet the UFT demands.

“What I’m going to do is when we have everyone assigned, every seat filled, we’ll announce that number, the final number, but we want to not have a situation where as we make these adjustments and we find ways to create effective models and efficiency and one thing or another, we get to a better number all the time,” said de Blasio. “I’m going to announce it when we get to the final thing.”

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