Nonprofit eases distance learning woes with free monitors for SF teachers

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Public school teachers in San Francisco still do not know when they will be heading back to their classrooms, but a program offering them a way to improve their virtual setups while they continue to teach from home has eased some challenges.

When her classroom at Tenderloin Community Elementary School was reduced to a laptop, special education teacher Katy Szatkowski faced many hurdles. For one thing, the entire 13-inch screen often had to be the whiteboard.

“I’m sharing my screen and presenting something and I can’t see reactions of my students,” she told KCBS Radio. “It’s hard to see if someone is raising their hand, it’s hard to see if the look on their face is just like, ‘Ms. Katy, I don’t get this.’”

Katy Szatkowski, Tenderloin Community Elementary School Special Education teacher, teaches movement to her 4th and 5th grade students
Katy Szatkowski, Tenderloin Community Elementary School Special Education teacher, teaches movement to her 4th and 5th grade students Photo credit Kathy Novak / KCBS Radio

The non-profit Two Screens for Teachers had a solution, offering San Francisco Unified School District teachers like Szatkowski a free computer monitor. Now, her students are all smiling back at her from the extra screen while she runs her class from the laptop.

“It’s almost like having a classroom again,” she said. “It’s like having my pile of materials and my baskets and then being able to have kids at desks in front of me.”

Szatkowski said the small change has made a big difference with virtual learning, which teachers, students and parents all still find challenging.

"There’s been days I don’t want to do my job any more because it’s hard to do it this way,” she explained. “But the thing that keeps me going is these kids and these families who are working so hard.”

But she said has noticed some positives in the remote setup.

“Some students honestly have made a lot of growth through distance learning because they’re not dealing also with the trauma or the anxiety that the school building brings,” Szatkowski said.

While she said remote learning has been a special experience by “getting a picture into each others’ homes,” she can’t wait to get back into the classroom.

“I’m currently doing trainings on how to teach during covid,” she said, adding that she misses school. “But I also understand that this is an unprecedented situation. Patience is hard, but i’m hoping we get to go back soon as safely as possible.”