As virus cuts class time, teachers have to leave out lessons

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Social studies teacher Logan Landry looks over the shoulder of seventh grader Simone Moore as she works on a project while seated next to a cutout of Elvis Presley at the Bruce M. Whittier Middle School, Friday, Jan. 29, 2021, in Poland, Maine. With instruction time reduced as much as half by the coronavirus pandemic, many of the nation's middle school and high school teachers have given up on covering all the material normally included in their classes and instead are cutting lessons. Landry, put up cardboard cutouts to keep up social distancing, where instruction time has been cut in half by the hybrid model.(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

English teachers are deciding which books to skip. History teachers are condensing units. Science teachers are often doing without experiments entirely.

With instruction time reduced as much as half by the coronavirus pandemic, many of the nation's middle school and high school teachers have given up on covering all the material normally included in their classes and instead are cutting lessons. Certain topics must be taught because they will appear on exit exams or Advanced Placement tests. But teachers are largely on their own to make difficult choices — what to prioritize and what to sacrifice to the pandemic.

“I have to make decisions constantly about what material I’m not going to cover because it is impossible to get it all done,” said Leigh Foy, a chemistry and Advanced Placement biology teacher at York Suburban High School in Pennsylvania.

School day schedules have been compressed to deal with the challenges of social distancing and remote learning. The pace of instruction has also been slowed by the need to cover subjects that were skipped following the school shutdowns last spring and by students' virus-related distractions and the difficulty in addressing both online and in-person audiences.

Foy typically has students memorize how to read and write names for chemical formulas. Now she gives them a sheet with the nomenclature to refer to during quizzes and tests. Even though it is an important skill for scientists, there isn't time this year.

What she teaches is constrained not only by her district's hybrid model, which leaves her with about 25% less instruction time, but also social-distancing mandates that have forced her to scrap laboratory experiences.

She was unhappy to see the College Board announce that it would not modify AP exams this year to account for the strains of distance learning. The company said colleges expect the exams to reflect the full scope of coursework and there was no consensus about what content could be cut.

The strain shows on the faces of her students, including some who juggle part-time jobs or care for siblings on days they learn from home.