CLEARWATER, Fla. - Pinellas County teachers and parents alike say they feel like the school district sold them a false bill of goods when it came to the difference between online and in-person learning this fall.
According to teachers and parents, regardless of which method they chose, they didn’t pick the simultaneous learning system now in place in more than half of Pinellas County classrooms.
“My kids hate learning this way,” said Amanda Loeffler, a Pinellas County parent. “There are times where there’s nothing for them to do or times where they are frustrated.”
Teachers feel just as frustrated. Under the simultaneous system, teachers must lead instruction for a classroom full of students and online virtual learners at the same time, navigating questions between the two groups, addressing technical issues for online learners, and trying to hold the attention of both sets of students.
And simultaneous teaching isn't just happening at the higher-grade levels.
"These six-year-olds have only had three quarters of kindergarten, so I have a student who knows four of his letter sounds and I have another student who is reading on a second-grade level and I’m having to juggle between their needs face-to-face and I haven’t even had a chance to assess my online kids yet,” one first grade teacher explained to school board members during a public comment session last week.
The Pinellas Teachers Association said they were led to believe that simultaneous teaching would only happen in rare circumstances, but teachers say entire schools are operating this way.
Janet Cunningham, a high school science and special education teacher, said in five of her six periods she’s teaching to a room full of students and a virtual classroom of students who are trying to follow along. Cunningham said having to split time addressing in person and online learners has meant that neither group is getting a quality education.
She said it’s become so hectic for teachers trying to keep up with both sets of students that, in some cases, students in class have been given laptops and asked to login and attend the online version of the class that they’re there to take in-person.
“Some of the schools that have devices are now teaching to the device for the students who are in class. So, now those students in class are looking down at a computer,” explained Cunningham “It’s a ridiculous experiment and it’s coming on behalf of our students and families.”
District officials have called simultaneous teaching a compromise between parents who wanted their students to be taught virtually by their school’s teachers and the constraints of district staffing.
Teachers said this method simply compromises everyone's education, ensuring that neither online students nor in-person students receive 100% of a teacher’s attention. Cunningham said the district needs to end simultaneous teaching now before students fall even further behind.
“The district has the ability to fix this. It is a hard fix. It’ll involve sitting down and shifting schedules again, but the longer we wait, the harder it’ll be,” said Cunningham. “MyPCS Online was marketed to have an exclusive teacher. It does not and that is a failure.”