Editor’s Note: In 1988, a teacher most commonly had 15 years of experience. In recent years, that number is closer to just three years leading a classroom. The “On Teaching” series focuses on the wisdom of veteran teachers.
San Francisco’s Mission High School is one of the most diverse in the nation. Its roughly 1,100 students hold at least 47 different passports; more than 60 percent of students are considered low income. Even before the coronavirus threw the nation into an economic crisis, most of Mission High’s students already struggled with access to basic needs—health care, housing, food, or access to the internet or computers—in a city among the nation’s wealthiest. Pirette McKamey, an English teacher of 27 years and Mission’s first-year principal, estimates—based on two weeks of calls and emails to Mission High families after San Francisco’s public schools shut down on March 16—that close to 30 percent of students don’t have a computer at home or access to high-quality internet.
San Francisco’s public schools didn’t begin formal remote instruction until today, but many teachers at Mission High kicked into high gear in the very first week of closures, providing voluntary assignments and attempting to connect with every student—including those with disconnected phone lines, those in homeless families, and recent immigrants speaking only Arabic, Spanish, or Mandarin. McKamey and other teachers have lent out laptops, and the district swiftly raised funds for additional computers, internet access, and free meals—the demand for which has doubled each week since the district began giving out food on March 17. Meanwhile, teachers are collaborating to adapt their curriculum to learning online, a big challenge in a school that is intentionally designed to maximize individual interactions. (DeLara Armijo, a freshman, told me she’s looking forward to working on a short-story assignment—“Coronavirus Quarantine Love Story”—math assignments, and daily exercises sent by her PE teacher).