In class, and on­line — at the same time

‘Dou­ble duty’ the new real­ity for teach­ers at a grow­ing num­ber of On­tario boards


They are teach­ing in-per­son and on­line. At the same time. The Up­per Canada District School Board in Eastern On­tario was be­lieved to be the first board to re­quire its teach­ers to livestream lessons from their in­per­son classes so that kids who’d opted to learn re­motely could watch, too, from home.

Then, just last week, both the York and Duf­ferin-Peel Catholic boards an­nounced they’re shift­ing to a sim­i­lar, dou­ble-duty model as they nav­i­gate both a teacher short­age and lim­ited bud­gets amid the COVID-19 pan­demic.

The prov­ince gave fam­i­lies the choice of send­ing their chil­dren to learn in per­son, or keep­ing them home to learn on­line. This has made it tricky for boards to plan and staff classes given the large num­ber of chil­dren who chose vir­tual learn­ing, and the op­tion for fam­i­lies to trans­fer be­tween the two. Some boards have yet to find ed­u­ca­tors to fill all vir­tual job open­ings, leav­ing kids with­out teach­ers.

Bey­han Farhadi, of the fac­ulty of ed­u­ca­tion at York Univer­sity and an ex­pert in on­line learn­ing, wrote to the Up­per Canada board with her con­cerns about hav­ing teach­ers re­spon­si­ble for such dif­fer­ent types of learn­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

“The an­nounce­ment to par­ents on Sept. 21 is un­ac­cept­able, un­sus­tain­able and sets up stu­dents and the teach­ers re­spon­si­ble for their learn­ing to fail,” said Farhadi.

“How can a teacher do both with­out con­fin­ing them­selves to a lim­ited space for the ma­jor­ity of the in­struc­tional pe­riod? I am sad­dened at the loss of qual­ity learn­ing that will re­sult from re­duc­ing learn­ing to chalk-and-talk and pas­sive con­sump­tion,” she said.

In syn­chro­nous, or live, vir­tual en­vi­ron­ments, “teach­ers use small-group break­out rooms, stu­dent-led ac­tiv­i­ties and in­quiry-based projects, where teacher pro­vide per­son­al­ized one-onone sup­port to stu­dents. They do not lec­ture at length,” Farhadi added.

Caitlin Clark, a spokesper­son for Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Stephen Lecce, said “our govern­ment de­liv­ered choice for par­ents — pro­vid­ing them with two op­tions — in-class learn­ing or vir­tual learn­ing” and more than $100 mil­lion in fund­ing for it.

“We also set the high­est stan­dards in Canada for re­mote learn­ing to en­sure our stu­dents re­ceive a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion through these un­prece­dented times” with three-quar­ters of the day ex­pected to be “in a live, Zoom-like set­ting.”

She also said that “to en­sure qual­ity on­line ed­u­ca­tion, we man­dated on­line learn­ing pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment for all ed­u­ca­tors, in­vested $69 mil­lion to help boards hire prin­ci­pals and ad­min­is­tra­tive sup­port for re­mote learn­ing, and $15 mil­lion to pur­chase over 30,000 tablets for fam­i­lies in need. More­over, days ago, we an­nounced an ad­di­tional in­vest­ment tar­get­ing boards like Peel and Toronto, to bol­ster fund­ing to en­sure qual­ity and safe ed­u­ca­tion for those fam­i­lies and stu­dents.”

Most boards have cre­ated “vir­tual schools” with their own, sep­a­rate staff of teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors.

But in its let­ter to fam­i­lies last week, the York Catholic board said “given the var­i­ous op­er­a­tional and staffing chal­lenges faced in the cur­rent re­mote learn­ing model, and the need to find a so­lu­tion that is sus­tain­able for the re­main­der of the school year, a de­ci­sion has been made in the best in­ter­est of all el­e­men­tary stu­dents ... to re­or­ga­nize class struc­tures, al­low­ing all el­e­men­tary stu­dents to be a part of their home school. This new hy­brid model blends face-to-face learn­ers with re­mote learn­ers into the same class un­der the di­rec­tion of the home school class­room teacher.”

It goes on to say that “this hy­brid model has nu­mer­ous ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing keep­ing re­mote learn­ers in their home school with their friends, main­tain­ing phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing in class­rooms and of­fer­ing a seam­less tran­si­tion from in­class learn­ing to re­mote learn­ing or vicev­ersa ... at any time.”

Schools in the York Catholic board will be closed Tues­day af­ter the long week­end, and tran­si­tion to the new model on Wed­nes­day.

Boards that have, or plan to have, teach­ers take dou­ble duty have come un­der fire from par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors. Par­ents have started pe­ti­tions op­pos­ing the moves, say­ing kids’ ed­u­ca­tion will suf­fer.

Filom­ena Fer­raro, pres­i­dent of the 4,000-mem­ber York Re­gion lo­cal of the On­tario English Catholic Teach­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, said there have been con­stant dis­rup­tions for staff and stu­dents al­ready “since the be­gin­ning of the school year” and be­lieves the board can’t af­ford to hire more teach­ers.

“I don’t think any­thing about the (hy­brid) plan is good,” she said. “Our mem­bers are not at all happy, par­ents are not very happy.”

In the Up­per Canada board, teach­ers are al­ready feel­ing stressed.

At that board, based in Brockville, ed­u­ca­tors are ac­tu­ally on what’s akin to quadru­ple duty, said Erin Blair, head of the lo­cal El­e­men­tary Teach­ers Fed­er­a­tion of On­tario. That’s be­cause they are re­spon­si­ble for in-class and live on­line learn­ing at the same time, plus cre­at­ing con­tent for on­line learn­ing for stu­dents who don’t want live lessons, as well as pa­per pack­ages to be de­liv­ered to stu­dents that have re­quested them — much like a cor­re­spon­dence course.

“Each of those forms is a to­tally dif­fer­ent way of teach­ing,” said Blair. “It’s not like you can do one style and ap­ply it (to the oth­ers). It’s a dis­ser­vice to stu­dents to do that ... and it’s an in­cred­i­ble bur­den, which my mem­bers are re­ally strug­gling with.”

Blair sent an open let­ter to par­ents, say­ing “there has not been the nec­es­sary fund­ing from the pro­vin­cial govern­ment for school boards to make this re­turn as safe as it could be.”

But a re­but­tal let­ter from the chair of the board said Blair’s “fea­tured mis­lead­ing and in­ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion” and said livestream­ing “will not be livestream­ing re­sem­bling what is used in real­ity TV pro­grams where mul­ti­ple cam­eras are video­ing par­tic­i­pants.”

Chair John McAl­lis­ter said there will be one cam­era, and that kids will have the op­tion of be­ing on video, and can ask ques­tions via a “chat” fea­ture and view all class ma­te­ri­als on­line.

For Corn­wall teacher Heather Doni­hee, the “quadru­ple” duty she has taken on for her French Im­mer­sion stu­dents in Grades 5 and 6 is chal­leng­ing, but she and her col­leagues “are mak­ing it work be­cause that’s what teach­ers do.”

“If I was teach­ing only in class, I would teach one way,” she added. “If I was teach­ing only (livestream­ing) I would teach to­tally dif­fer­ently.”

Now, she talks to stu­dents on­line as if they were in class with her, ask­ing them ques­tions as she would any­one in the room.

She keeps the cam­era on her while she’s talk­ing, and when it’s time for kids to work in­de­pen­dently, she keeps the cam­era turned to the front of the class­room. Kids in the vir­tual mode can un­mute their mi­cro­phones and call out a ques­tion at any time.

The key, Doni­hee added, “is just try­ing to keep that level of en­gage­ment up, while they are sit­ting in front of a com­puter all day.”


A teacher ar­ranges desks at a school in Mon­treal. On­tario school boards are ask­ing teach­ers to livestream lessons from their in-per­son classes so that stu­dents who opted to learn re­motely could watch from home.

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