Teaching the teachers: District prepares new hires for an online start

Teachers adjust to remote learning.
Photo credit Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
By KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Six-hundred new Philadelphia teachers are currently participating in online orientation for the start of an all-online school year.

This week’s training sessions run the gamut from self-care to battling racial injustice.

In a Zoom class on Tuesday, titled, “Becoming a Culturally Sensitive Teacher,” District Professional Learning Specialist Nicholas Bungard walked new hires through exercises designed to get them thinking about their own internal biases.

“It’s not as easy as saying there’s just a criteria that you need to hit and then check! Everything’s good, you’re not racist,” Bungard said. “That’s not how this works.”

In one portion of the class, teachers were asked to respond to a photo of two boys with one-word descriptions: Attack. Helping. Violence. Fights. Play.

Bungard said the exercise illustrates how individual cultural backgrounds can color a teacher’s perspective.

“What we try to do is create situations where individuals can reflect on themselves so they can apply that reflection to their classroom and how they interact with our students,” he said.

Other workshops focus on supporting students who suffering from trauma, and planning for effective instruction.

New hire training is usually conducted in person, but it — like the start of the school year — is virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to discussions on teaching core subjects, such as math and language arts, District Professional Learning Specialist Katie Walsh said instructors are learning the best ways to teach via video conferencing from at-home Chromebooks.

“We’re also thinking about, how do we incorporate this concept that we’re now virtual? What are we doing to ensure that not only are we planning for effective instruction? What does that look like and sound like in a virtual setting? How are we checking for understanding? What are the tools and strategies we’re using within, say, Zoom, to support this work?” she questioned.

For more than 200 of the new hires, the School District of Philadelphia is their first teaching job.

Seventy percent of the new teachers are women. More than half are white, and 28% are African-American.

The first day of virtual classes for Philadelphia school students begins Sept. 2.