Wednesday, December 2, 2020

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Political Voices: No substitute for in-classroom learning

Last week, I put on my shirt and tie, but instead of roaming the halls of Congress, I spent the day substitute teaching for Mrs. Pierson’s middle school English classes. Amid the debate on if, when, and how to open our nation’s schools, I decided to get a firsthand look at the challenges.

Serving as “sub” reinforced my view we need to do everything we can to keep our kids in school and keep them safe while they are there. Once I got to the classroom, it became obvious to me I was substituting for a dedicated and organized educator.  She had prepared a five-page memo for me, outlining the things I needed to keep in mind when dealing with specific students and specific assignments. Many of the instructions related to how best to integrate technology into the day and how best to engage those students who were “e-learning” or learning from home.

There were a few key takeaways from the day as a substitute. First, the students were great. People warn about America’s bleak future, but these kids have a ton of potential. Second, I’ve always known teaching isn’t an easy profession but teaching during a pandemic is a different beast. These educators aren’t teaching one class at a time. They are teaching the typical in-person class, simultaneously teaching students online, and still focusing extra attention on students who may have limited English proficiency or students who have fallen behind. And third, our nation has embraced remote learning as an option during this pandemic, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It comes with technical challenges, and frankly, there’s no substitute for the experience of teaching and connecting with a student in-person.

Substitute teaching for the day was a valuable experience. Our students are happy to be back in the classroom, even with masks and amidst extra precautions. Precautions like wiping down tables and desks between each period – another thing added to teachers already very full plates.

Even if you don’t have a child attending school right now, I hope you’ll take this opportunity to thank your local teachers and to thank the substitutes who are stepping up to fill in the gaps. It’s going to take all of us to get through this pandemic and to keep our kids in school as much as we can. If you do have school-aged children in South Dakota, tell them to keep an eye out. They may just have their Congressman in their classroom someday.

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