Eric Stinton: COVID-19 Gives Us A Chance To Change How We Teach. Let's Not Waste It - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at

Somewhere between the initial uncertainty of the pandemic and the current ongoing delirium of it, there was a brief moment of clarity, a few weeks where hope for the future felt rational.

In the face of a crisis unseen in over a century, everyone seemed to get it. People complied with emergency orders and Congress managed to pass stimulus legislation in days – proving the previous gridlock to be a matter of conscious decision, not political necessity.

People collected their $1,200 government checks, and Gov. David Ige appeared to be getting most of the major responses right: clearly communicating how to apply for unemployment and small business relief, putting a moratorium on evictions. National poverty fell, and Hawaii’s case numbers steadily dropped.

People came together to support small businesses. Restaurant and grocery store workers were regarded as the vital pillars of community they’ve always been but for which they were rarely appreciated. Countless commuters were given back hours of their day as they began working from home. Summer vacation was on the horizon for students, presumably granting enough time for the Department of Education to learn from its abrupt pivot to online instruction and prepare for the fall.

Washington Middle School posted signs for students picking up homework during the early days of the pandemic. COVID-19 has shaken the school system, but offers a chance to make meaningful change. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

It felt, briefly, like a saner world. The pandemic shook society by its ankles, holding us all aloft long enough for us to see what fell out of our collective pockets and wonder what, if any of it, was worth salvaging. Evidently, we don’t need to be at our job every day to get our work done, and yes, all of those meetings could just be emails instead.

But … of course, there’s a but. You probably don’t need me to enumerate the ways in which things have not improved: how stimulus relief dried up and businesses closed down; how customer service workers became the dumping grounds for the pent up and pissed off; how lockdown made those same commuters yearn to be stuck in traffic just for the chance to get out of the house.

COVID-19 has been a scourge across the islands and the globe. Yet it has also exposed long-broken aspects of life. Because of the very real and profound pain the pandemic has caused, it is crucial to start thinking of how things can be post-pandemic.

I couldn’t possibly say what could or should change at your job – the policies that are only there because they’ve been there and nobody has bothered to ask why – but I can talk at least a little bit about mine.

Let Teachers Teach

There’s a difference between teaching and being a teacher. Teaching means getting to know students, discovering in detail how their personalities, living situations, previous school experiences and any number of learning disabilities interact to create a learning style – then figuring out how to teach them in a way that both accommodates their needs and challenges them to grow.

Being a teacher means collecting data, preparing reports and organizing meetings to go over the reports. Being a teacher is the process of knowing if and how much your teaching is working.

Both aspects – teaching and being a teacher – are important and necessary, but the balance has always felt lopsided to me, with too much time spent on being a teacher and not enough time actually teaching. This school year has only made that feeling intensify.

Dole Middle School sign ‘Virtual Learning starts 8/24’ during COVID-19 pandemic. September 3, 2020
The challenges that come with teaching and learning virtually are exacerbating frustrations with the education system. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Additional reports and meetings have been dumped on us and taken us out of the classroom at a critical juncture, just so we can finish by an arbitrary deadline.

The purpose of these reports is to see if any skill loss has occurred during distance learning. We were told about them two weeks ago, and have until Oct. 2 to hold a meeting for every special education student in the school. Each meeting must include an administrator, two teachers and the parent or guardian.

Students are already playing catch up to make up for the end of last year and the late start to this year. At a time when students need time with their teachers, many of us have had to – and will continue to – remove ourselves from virtual classrooms to compile data, write reports, then schedule and hold meetings. And since a lot of time this year has been spent instructing students how to navigate the structure and technology of distance learning, there is very little meaningful data to use in the first place.

Abraham Lincoln Elementary School Stop do not Enter and Please wait here during COVID-19 pandemic. August 13, 2020
Teachers need to be able to spend more of their time teaching — particularly in this upended school year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

We’re essentially comparing one assessment taken at home this year – likely when the student was surrounded by distractions – to assessments taken at school in previous years, where the collective concentration of the class builds a herd immunity against distraction. The information is limited in both quantity and explanatory value.

Dedicating all that time to actively addressing whatever learning gaps there may be would no doubt be a better use of time. We should absolutely be reflecting and checking on the effectiveness of our teaching in this format, especially once we have enough time and data to build a clearer picture of what’s happening.

But on a tight timeline and in these bizarre circumstances, getting down to the real work is more important. Getting the balance right applies to our current state of teaching right now, but it also should be considered generally for future reforms.

It’s not easy to be the person to ask why a certain policy exists, or what the purpose is for a procedural change. The good news is that, in many facets of life, the pandemic has already caused us to reconsider longstanding assumptions, like the nature of Hawaii’s tourism dependency, and how we can better take care of the homeless and impoverished among us.

In some cases, the pandemic has led to the elimination of unnecessary red tape. Online health care, once complicated by privacy regulations and requirements for in-person first visits, has flourished; the need to get things done has rendered many precedents obsolete.

Now, it’s a matter of bringing to light other parts of our lives — from our individual workplaces to our broad societal institutions — that can be updated to fit with the times.

COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to reimagine what is possible. To go through a tremendous shock to the system only to revert back to the dysfunction that existed before would be to squander that opportunity, causing the last six months to be nothing more than a meaningless episode of failure and suffering. The innumerable people who have lost their lives and their livelihoods to this virus deserve better than that.

Read this next:

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About the Author

Eric Stinton

Eric Stinton is a writer and teacher from Kailua, where he lives with his wife and dogs. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint and find his work at

Latest Comments (0)

It could be possible that distance learning will provide more "bang for the buck" for our children if you think about how much money is spent on infrastructure and the administrative bureaucracy of the school system.  It may also solve some of some big problems in the islands.Let's look at the positives :1) No transportation required to get children to school. Traffic congestion is a serious problem on Oahu.  So much so that our poor sighted lawmakers have a 9 billion dollar rail project that will fail miserably. Not having to drop off children at school will definitely alleviate some of that congestion.2) Children with similar learning capabilities can be grouped together more efficiently allowing for more specialize curriculum to ensure learning is paced to ability.3) A wider choice of specialized topics can be offered giving students an opportunity to choose areas of interests they want to explore as a single teacher can have students across the whole state.

jaytee777 · 3 years ago

The main issue is that teachers have become babysitters first, educators second. Society is structured—particularly in places like Hawaii where cost of living is sky high—where both parents have to work at least a full time job each to make ends meet. And this would be ok if employers provided flex time and the option to work from home whenever  possible. But many are still stuck in the 20th century where physical presence at the office (first in, last out) is equated with dedication, productivity etc. employees that don’t rock the boat, never ask for flex time etc. are valued. Never mind that many fritter away their hours on social media or browsing the Internet for deals. If we can get out of that mind set, trust employees to get the job done from anywhere as long as they meet deadlines and produce, maybe distance education wouldn’t be so stressful to parents of older kids. Parents with younger kids can work after school ends or get a real babysitter so teachers can teach.

kbaybaby · 3 years ago

Eric, I applaud and fully support your plea to drastically reduce the administrative workload that has been placed on the teachers over the past decades. This madness is happening worldwide, driven by education bureaucracies and well-intentioned but ill-conceived legislation; it is invading colleges, too. In the town where I grew up, teachers are now required, among countless other things, to prepare a teaching plan, and have it approved, for every single instruction period! As a result, their job satisfaction and the quality of education received by the students have crashed. It's the same with doctors: two generations ago, they spent around 85% of their workday with patients; now, they spend about 85% of their workday filling out paperwork. But how do we extricate ourselves from this nightmare? Legislators and government bureaucrats seem to know only one way to respond to any problem: create even more paperwork.

Chiquita · 3 years ago

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