Public education will never go back to how it was before the coronavirus pandemic, educators hypothesized during Wednesday evening’s “Difficulties in Distance Learning” panel at San Antonio CityFest.

Following the pandemic-induced shift to online learning in the spring, U.S. educators have had to face an array of challenges no other teachers have faced before, said panelist Michael Villarreal, director of the Institute for Urban Education at the University of Texas at San Antonio. The shift back to in-person learning will be anything but normal, he added.

“[Education] will continue to be asynchronous, or distance learning to some extent,” Villarreal said. While 64 percent of students said they felt they learned less via online-only instruction, 11 percent felt they learned more, according to a study performed by the Institute for Urban Education at UTSA. This fissure will likely mean teachers or schools will have to balance both in-person and online classes moving forward, he said.

The panel, moderated by San Antonio Report education reporter Emily Donaldson, also featured Kathryn Medendorp, Northside ISD first-grade teacher and secretary of NISD’s chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, and Maribel Gardea – a co-founder and co-director of Mindshift ED, a parent advocacy group in San Antonio.

As an elementary school teacher, Medendorp gave a first-hand testament to the growing pains educators have faced since the start of the pandemic in March. 

Struggles have included making sure children are not only learning basics like math, reading, and science but also helping families learn to use technology, connecting students to resources for food insecurity, and working with parents to keep children on track, she said.

Medendorp said as both a working mother and teacher, she and other educators have been stretched thin over the past few months – but will be even more so as learning moves to being partially in person and partially online.

She thanked parents for being forgiving during this time as educators work to figure out how to balance everything moving forward. 

The survey found that 57 percent of students and parents said their teachers were very helpful when school first shifted to all-online instruction and that teachers couldn’t have done anything more to reduce the stress during that time, Villarreal said. 

If public schools are going to be successful in the future, school districts need to take some of the pressure off of teachers to be and do everything for students, Villarreal said. Responsibilities need to be taken off just teachers to make sure kids are connected, fed, and educated, he said.

“[Teachers and parents] need the City of San Antonio, they need Bexar County, they need the nonprofit sector and the private sector to help meet some basic needs,” Villarreal said.

As the mother of two sons, Gardea said parent education will also be vital in upcoming months. 

“It has been really challenging,” she said. “I can’t say it’s gotten that much better. But I think for what we have, we’re working with what we have right now.”

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...