During distance lessons, teachers can gain insight into the lives of some students. Sometimes they see things they didn’t know at school. Some teachers wonder if they have witnessed abuse.
HOST AILSA CHANG:
Distance learning – this is how millions of American children go to school now, and it is difficult for teachers to form relationships. Some students find it difficult to engage with the computer, and teachers don’t always have a complete picture of their progress. Virtual learning also gives teachers a first-hand look at students’ family life, and some of what they see can be very unsettling. From the WBEZ member station in Chicago, Susie An reports. And just a warning, this story might not be suitable for all listeners.
SUSIE AN, BYLINE: Last month, a Chicago teacher witnessed a heartbreaking incident during a virtual class where an 18-year-old girl allegedly sexually assaulted one of her 7-year-old students. Some of the other children also saw it. The teacher quickly filed a report and called the police, and the teenager was arrested. While blatant cases of abuse are rare during distance learning, teachers find themselves struggling with less direct access to their students, even though they gain more personal insight into their lives at home.
UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: Our school district requires children to have their cameras on. And for some, I see why kids want to hide and not have their cameras on.
AN: This elementary school teacher in a Chicago suburb says she now sees poorly dressed adults or hears mature language coming from a student’s home. And she has to be careful when addressing the students because she doesn’t know who else might be listening to her. This teacher recently reported an incident with a student during distance learning, so to protect the student’s privacy we are not using their name.
UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: He wouldn’t turn on his camera. He wasn’t talking, but he was talking to me via chat.
AN: She says he left his scheduled class and logged into his room and reached out to her, saying he was considering killing himself. She was able to calm him down and get help immediately. She is not sure the situation would have turned out the same in person.
UNIDENTIFIED TEACHER: If he was in school, I know he wouldn’t have stood up and walked out of his class, but at least he had the wherewithal to say, I need to talk to someone. ‘a.
AN: Randi Weingarten heads the American Federation of Teachers and says teachers face new situations. Have they seen an adult hit a child? Is a child home alone?
RANDI WEINGARTEN: You have a terrible circle of abdication responsibility, which then puts even more pressure and more judgment appealing to the individual teachers.
AN: She says teachers can’t do everything. They need better guidance and more resources to help them cope with the side effects of the pandemic. When Illinois was ordered to stay at home last spring, reports of child abuse dropped dramatically. Tierney Stutz works in the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services. She says now those numbers seem more typical, and she thinks part of that is because some students are back in real schools. She says distance learning shouldn’t get in the way of teachers looking after their students’ well-being.
TIERNEY STUTZ: Whenever they have a suspicion of mistreatment, they don’t need evidence, they don’t even need to have a specific incident, they just need a set of circumstances that will make them feel bad. make suspected of possible child abuse.
AN: Erin Breen, a first year teacher, has no problem reporting an incident if it does. But virtual learning got her thinking about how she talks to students. She has a hard time predicting when a child might offer sensitive information during a virtual lesson. At school, she can push them aside for a quiet conversation, but that’s more difficult to do now.
ERIN BREEN: I’m concerned about this privacy and confidentiality component that has now been passed into everyone’s house.
AN: She says it was difficult to deal with things that she wouldn’t normally see or hear if a student was in front of her.
BREEN: But it’s school now. This is what school is. And I see it, and I hear it.
AN: For NPR News, I’m Susie An in Chicago.
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