Tuesday, 10 November 2020

A Cruelty Free Response to Pandemic Response Teaching

Instead of double doubling classroom teachers with absurd remote/face to face simultaneous instructional expectations and a schedule that fires a month of work at students that teachers are then expected to prep, deliver (in two places at once) and mark with no time given, let's review and improve this situation.

Course duration has always been set in Ontario at 110 hours, but instructional time has been systemically devalued by waiving expectations for remote learning and dropping unqualified teachers into make-work support roles instead of using them for what they should be in schools for.

In a pandemic where everyone is stressed, a schedule that is uneven and cruel has put unnecessary pressure on both staff and students.  Let's take a step back and see if I can't spitball a better solution.  I ain't no senator's son sitting in an office deciding these things, I'm just one of the people who is being waterboarded by them, but I'll take a swing at that difficult job anyhow.


A teacher typically teaches three classes of 20-31 students per semester.  Let's say that's 75-80 students you're responsible for (some semesters I've had 90+).  If we made all classes capped at 20 students (a single cohort), each teacher would be responsible for 80 students (I'll explain why it's x4 instead of x3 in a minute), which is where most of us normally are.

We have way fewer students in schools right now because many have opted for fully remote learning, so there are empty classrooms all about not being used.

We have a shortage of specialist teachers and can't provide qualified coverage for them.

We cling to the idea that we need to keep prep periods in our schedule and then fill them with meaningless, un-pedagogically sound busy work while causing always on quadmesters where your prep isn't happening even as you're being asked to rejig a curriculum to a schedule no one has ever seen before.

Students with special needs are swamped by the machine gun like efficiency of quadmestering.

Students without special needs are overwhelmed by the drink from the firehose curriculum of quadmestering.


  • in semester 2 return to semestered schedules
  • each week is one class with a three-day weekend to de-COVID the place
  • make every Friday an independent review and catch up day for students to give them time to make sense of the hectic influx of material
  • Friday without students in the building means we have a 72 hour break between classes which Canada Health defines as the maximum time it takes for COVID on surfaces to die off, so extra cleaning wouldn't be necessary
  • on those Fridays staff are given time to mark the week's work, contact students with updates and concerns and prep for the next week's influx of material (a day at COVID speed equals just over 4 normal instructional days so marking comes thick and fast)
  • each month/4 weeks is a complete tumble of the schedule
  • teachers don't have prep 'periods' (that turned into weeks under quadmestering). Instead they have Fridays and smaller classes to manage
  • teachers all provide their own remote learning support so a qualified person is teaching students they are familiar with providing a much higher rate of qualified teacher to student instructional hours than currently being delivered
  • leverage the empty classes generated by fully remote learning to spread out cohorts and cover the bump in classes running
  • leverage the teachers currently brought in at teacher salaries to babysit to actually teach classes
  • each day is a three hour face to face morning session (12 hours of instructional f2f time per four day week)
  • each class has a 2 hour remote/online expectation for review and consolidation of learning WITH THE SAME QUALIFIED TEACHER
  • teachers can leverage their relationships with students to engage them in online work
  • at five hours per day of instructional time, and 16 weeks of class (4 tumbles through the schedule), students would experience 48 hours of face to face instruction and 32 hours of guided online instruction with a qualified teacher familiar with them from face to face learning.  They would also have 5 hours of Friday consolidation of learning time each week for a total of 20 hours in the semester.  That adds up to one hundred hours of learning at a pedagogical effectiveness we can only dream of right now
  • even with the Fridays removed, we'd still be at 80 hours of combined instruction which is significantly better than the 52.5 hours of face to face instruction happening now
  • remote/elearning would be credible instead of incredible because that instructional time would be provided by a qualified and personally acquainted teacher
  • add in an exam/culminating presentation day per class at the end of the year and you'd be at 103 hours of instruction with credible culminating grades generated (exams are cancelled currently)
  • students cannot opt out of remote learning and every effort will be made to ensure they have connectivity and technology at home with which to do it (this is happening now anyway - not the opting out part, evidently parents can opt out of remote learning which means students are earning credits at less than 50% usual attendance)


  • smaller cohorts to reduce the chance of COVID transmission
  • no classrooms shared by multiple cohorts in the same day (reducing transmission)
  • more classes running so students can access more courses without conflicts
  • a qualified instructor who knows students providing remote learning
  • a much higher quality of remote learning
  • a 30%+ increase in actual instructional time compared to cohorted quadmesters
  • a teacher not expected to be online and in class simultaneously
  • time given for meaningful one on one feedback both face to face and remotely
  • time given for redesigning an entirely new curriculum schedule on the fly
  • time given to recognize the cognitive load on students trying to cover a month of material each week during a crisis
  • time given for pedagogically sound learning by spacing things out and providing meaningful online support
  • time given for students to review their learning and consolidate it
  • students with special needs would have extra time come to terms with their learning (all spec-ed support is currently cancelled - Fridays could be spec-ed support remote check in days too)
  • a more reasonable schedule that is evenly distributed and isn't running people into the ground with unrelenting stress during a pandemic (there's a sentence I never thought I'd have to write)
  • restore credibility to online/remote learning after a year of the Minister and now boards suggesting it's optional and doesn't matter by cancelling assessment in the spring and now ignoring class duration requirements by faking remote learning


We've clung to some assumptions (teacher semestered prep periods in scheduling) while tossing out others (time spent in a course doesn't really matter).  Our priorities are out of whack and the result is hurting people and damaging learning.  Things are never going to be as they were prior to COVID while we're under the weight of this pandemic, but we can get closer with a bit of flexibility and kindness.

Teacher prep periods have remained even though they make no sense in a quadmestered system.  The result is a massively uneven quadmester schedule that waterboards staff with high class caps in one and leaves them with make-work in the other.  There is enough real work to go around.

By leveraging the empty space we currently have in schools due to fully remote learners and adjusting the work load by producing smaller class sizes and spreading out instruction, we could have a schedule that comes much closer to providing a kinder and more effective learning environment while also giving students access to more courses.

The question is, will the people who set this up be willing to change it?