Just reading that title, so many of us have specific faces that pop into our minds.
Each one of our students has their own personal story, but some of them tug at our heartstrings more than others.
We know the students who we worry about when they’re not with us. The ones that we lay awake at night thinking about, wondering if there is anything we can do differently for them.
When school is closed for an extended period of time, be in a natural emergency or for school vacation, it is especially stressful as teachers often struggle to find ways to keep in communication with these students.
If there is an expectation that work is completed during this time, it adds an extra layer of angst.
In speaking with teachers in this situation, it is clear that this is the number one issue plaguing so many of them.
Teachers Can Only Do So Much
Much like within the classroom, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to reaching students outside of the walls in our buildings.
If we’re being honest, some of them may very well be completely off the grid if they aren’t present in school.
When it comes to a lack of communication, it’s important to determine why before coming up with a plan to combat it (to whatever degree you can).
Many students, no matter their age, go home and assume what we would consider being “mini adult” lives. If they’re not in school, it is very out of sight, out of mind, especially if education is not a high priority within a family.
No matter how hard we try, this is a barrier that we might not be able to overcome in a school year.
No teacher wants to admit this, but it’s a level of acceptance that is necessary in order to relieve a little of that “teacher guilt” from the experience.
I’m not saying give up; I’m saying just know that you can’t save everyone.
Location, Location, Location
Sometimes, the physical location of our students has a lot to do with them being off the grid.
Sometimes, they may literally be off the grid.
They may live in a rural area, somewhere that cell phone signal is sparse, an area where the internet is not offered, or their home situation may change frequently enough that there is nothing concrete in place from day-to-day.
Even in the most affluent districts, this can still be a reality for some students.
Socioeconomics can also be a huge factor. Even if you put forward my suggested best practice of polling your students to know what type of devices they have access to at the beginning of the year, that can always abruptly change (in either direction) with one change of an employment situation or an unexpected move.
Don’t assume everything is the status quo.
Basic Ideas to Start
According to the NTIA, “14 percent of the U.S. population between ages 6 and 17 lived in homes with no Internet service, down from 19 percent in 2015” (NTIA 2018).
While this is certainly a downward trend, that still leaves a lot of children without the internet in their homes.
As a matter of fact, a late 2018 survey from the Pew Research Center found that “nearly one-in-five teens can’t always finish their homework because of the digital divide” (Pew 2018)
If you know that the issue is an accessibility one, it only takes a few minutes and a quick Google search to plug in an address and find free wi-fi spots nearby.
Many internet service providers also have programs to give families with students who fit certain criteria free or reduced internet access so a student can complete school work.
It might take a little research, but presenting this information in full to a family might make a huge difference. They may not be willing to put in the time to research themselves because it is not a priority.
If the information is readily available, it can do wonders.
What if accessibility isn’t the issue?
In many situations (as I addressed above), factors that don’t include accessibility are 100% the problem.
The best that we can do as a teacher facing this hurdle is doing everything within our power to show a student how valuable an education is.
We only have power over so much.
We can call, text, send letters, drop off packages, smile, laugh, give out prizes, call again, have friends call, give out literature, create strong relationships, and invite them over for tea.
Sometimes, none of it is enough when more pressing matters take priority.
When I taught in a Title I high school, I often said the same statement over and over to my struggling students:
“The only thing no one can ever take away from you is what you know.”
More often than not, that struck a chord with a student who couldn’t see the benefit of worrying about school.
Not always, but sometimes.
There is no solid answer here, but the questions surrounding this issue are starting to get louder. Don’t get frustrated, take action. Start a committee within your school, district, or state. What are the challenges? What can be done to overcome these hurdles on both micro and macro levels?
Nothing will be a quick fix and these conversations will be debated before this issue is settled. However, there have always been issues in educational equality and as the conversations got louder, solutions became more negotiable.
Nothing in education is perfect, but as people in the frontline, we certainly should keep trying. Even if we help one student, we’ve made a difference.