NY Teacher Of The Year Talks Inequity To Internet, Standardize Testing Amid Pandemic

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG)— The world has changed since Rachel Murat was named New York’s 2020 Teacher of the Year.

She teaches Social Studies at Maine-Endwell High School and spoke with WSKG’s Sarah Gager about the impact of the pandemic on learning.

[TRANSCRIPT]

SARAH GAGER, HOST: This is WSKG. Rachel Murat is a Social Studies teacher from Maine-Endwell High School and New York’s 2020 Teacher of the Year.

But when she was given the title, COVID-19 wasn’t a threat to public health and Zoom classes weren’t a thing. Murat joins us now to talk about the unique challenges teachers and students are facing this year. Ms. Murat – thank you for taking the time to speak today.

RACHEL MURAT: Thank you. I’m excited to be here.

GAGER: So you’re nationally recognized as a leader of the digital citizenship movement in schools. Digital citizenship, for our listeners who don’t know, is how you represent yourself online. So you teach students mindfulness in regards to what they say online. Has remote learning changed the approach to digital citizenship?

MURAT: I don’t think it’s changed the approach, I think it’s just intensified in need and urgency. Because we need to talk about Zoom protocols, we need to look at, but not too closely, a lot of the examples we’re seeing in the media of how not to act on a Zoom call. So I think it’s important that we’re modeling for our students the best way to conduct themselves in a Zoom call, how to complete an email, you know, that is professional in nature, to make sure that we capitalize our ‘I’s’, to make sure that we’re not putting anything in a Zoom chat that we would not want somebody to screenshot, etc. So I don’t necessarily think the message has changed. I think it just has increased in intensity.

GAGER: Yeah, you’re talking about a new normal here. What is the biggest change that you think might be lasting?

MURAT: Well, I’m sad that we had to have the conversation, but I’m glad that the conversation is now on the national forefront, and that is the inequity of access. Not to just devices, but also to reliable internet. Because there are lots of parts of this state, let alone the country, that just don’t even have access to any form of internet capability unless they are at school. And so I think that if we want kids to be able to be ready to go out into the workforce, they need to be having experiences of being able to navigate resources online, being able to figure out how to access things online, how to create and collaborate online. And if they don’t have access to those things, we are really putting them at a disadvantage prior to them going to college, or to the workforce, or even into the military. And so I think that, nationally, we need to be making WiFi a utility in 2021, not just something that is available based on where you live.

GAGER: And I mean, when you’re talking about a career in teaching, that’s 20-plus years, what what’s the biggest challenge of what you needed to relearn?

MURAT: The workflow, I think, would be one of the biggest challenges, because we have a different way to do pretty much everything. And so working out that workflow was a huge challenge and a huge change. And I’m all about, you know, changing for the better, and I usually can rise to the challenges, but there were a couple days that ended in tears because I just didn’t think I was getting—I was grasping it. And it was just out of frustration in the sense that, you know, I need to figure this out. And I’m not saying I figured it out, I’m just saying I’m in a better place of trying to figure this out.

But I think that one of the other things that has been a huge change is I have had to defend our livelihood and our career choices more than I ever have, and it has never been more important to be a teacher. And so I like to be able to speak to pre-service teachers as much as I possibly can, not just to be a cheerleader for the profession, but for them to understand that what they are choosing to do matters, and it really does make a difference. Because we had a teacher shortage prior to the pandemic, and, if you were to get onto social media or the news, you can see stories every single day of teachers just walking in handing their resignation letters and leaving. And that is a result of us not having the resources that teachers need the supports that teachers need. I’m not necessary—I’m not talking about our district—I’m just talking about holistically as teachers.

GAGER: I think one question that is on a lot of parents minds is about the status of standardized testing.

MURAT: To be honest with you, I think it’s irresponsible of us to give a standardized test this year. But, if you look at the reasons why we give standardized tests—to make sure that kids are hitting certain learning targets, to make sure that they are ready to go on to the next step—I think if you have standardized testing this year, you’re not actually measuring the reason why you have those standardized tests in the first place. So you would be giving a test to give a test. And then lastly, how are you going to fit 250 kids in a socially distant way to give a test that is supposed to be secure? So, I mean, I just don’t think it’s a good idea.

GAGER: Thanks so much for your time.

MURAT: Thank you very much for having me.

GAGER: That was Rachel Murat, New York’s 2020 Teacher of the Year. This is WSKG.